Belshazzar’s Feast (Paul Sartin and Paul Hutchinson), fine players of traditional music, word play, and the occasional self-penned tune, have made a new album of carols and other Christmas based music, Stocking Fillers.
Even before listening to the music, it’s worth taking a couple of minutes just to read the liner notes, which range from the witty (the naval gazing pun is particularly brilliant) to almost ridiculously insane. They also do a good job of lampshading the fact that there aren’t many happy songs, because happy songs are few and far between on a proper Christmas album.
Having said that, we are treated to a cheeky polka in Playford’s Christmas Ball and a tune which apparently is based on Greensleeves (though if you can recognise that you deserve a medal).
There’s also a nice fugue style arrangement of a tune composed by Hutchinson which does a nice job of convincing you that Belshazzar’s Feast have now become a Baroque Tribute band, with layer upon layer adding to such a feel.
Sartin’s voice is, as ever, delightful. Granted, it’s hard for someone who’s spent five years singing with a cathedral choir to not sound delightful, but it’s worth mentioning that his voice is an absolute joy to listen to.
And, as is required for a good voice to remain such while accompanied, the arrangements let the voice carry and stay out of the way, but they can start to sound a bit samey at times, with one of the duo holding a drone, and the other playing the tune, with a few exceptions.
The more miserable and dark carols (which Belshazzar’s Feast seem to favour quite considerably) only really work when they have a drone style accompaniment, which is what Belshazzar’s Feast give them. A bit more variety might make the album more entertaining, but the tunes do the work of breaking up the ’festive gloom’.
Ultimately, if you like Christmas tunes then you’re going to like this. The Belshazzar’s Feast treatment does everything superbly and it’s hard to fault their performances. It’s hard to fault the tunes they’ve collected or composed either, but for those more ambivalent about Christmas the tunes don’t really hold the album up on their own.Patrick Rose
Released on 19th November 2012 Unearthed Records
1. Green Sleeves I
2. Sussex Air/Sussex Carol
4. Joseph And Mary
5. Playford’s Christmas Ball
6. Tarry Trousers
7. Coventry Tango
8. Parson’s Farewell
9. Mr. Marsden’s Maggot
10. The Shepherd’s Song/Will’s Jig
11. Green Sleeves II
12. Silent Night