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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews The Food of Love by Belshazzar's Feast

Hey, d'ya remember Belshazzar's Feast? – the formidably fine duo formed by accordionist Paul Hutchinson and oboist/violinist/singer Paul Sartin back in the mid-90s, which motored on bravely for a good number of years producing no fewer than five albums for WildGoose before drawing to a temporary halt and taking a brief sabbatical principally due to the lads' heavy commitments elsewhere (Mr. H with Hoover The Dog and Okavango, Mr. S with Bellowhead and Faustus). Never ones to let a good opportunity lapse, however, they've somehow managed to shoehorn their masterful partnership back into those already unutterably crowded schedules and hurrah, Belshazzar's Feast (aka The Spice Boys!) are now back on the road. And on the CD player too, I'm glad to see (and hear), with this tasty new culinary offering. It's even more of an appetising menu than usual, for it comes in the form of a main-dish (full-length) studio disc with a complimentary (and complementary) bonus disc containing an "appetiser prepared at a live performance", all housed in a mouth-watering vol-au-vent of a digipack.

This particular musical partnership was always something rather special, the chemistry between the two musicians very pronounced, and if anything their sabbatical has sharpened those interpersonal responses even more. You might think that with just two instrumental colours the overall sound might get just a little boring after a while; not a bit of it! The sheer variety of available sounds and textures, combined with the brilliant (and at times brilliantly wicked) inventiveness of two players who really know their instruments and their capabilities inside out, makes for a whirlwind listening experience. And that's not considering the breadth of repertoire which they can call on with such ease, from traditional to classical to pre-classical and even world but all interleaved so incredibly naturally (well that's how it sounds!) into one music. Following each delectable twist and turn of a typical album-track tune-set proves to be an art in itself, and yes, I'll virtually guarantee you'll find a fresh nuance or added cheeky, knowing musical cross-reference on each successive playthrough.

I daren't spoil the myriad of scintillating musical surprises you'll encounter in this way, but suffice to say it ain't gonna be Playford or the Penguin Café or trad-arr as you know it, Jim! The many imaginatively arranged and executed instrumental items are punctuated (mostly on the studio set) by a generous number of songs, which Mr Sartin treats in a lively and yet amicably relaxed manner that's both immediate and appealing. At their live gigs, as you'll hear on the bonus disc, Belshazzar's Feast stun their audiences into silent submission with their marvellous musicianship, then roll 'em in the aisles with helpless laughter at their hilarious banter and, er, marvellous musicianship. For these guys possess the rare ability to both inspire and entertain by combining an acute intelligence of approach with superbly witty humour and virtuoso playing. As you'll hear on these discs, in spades; while the sleeve notes alone provide more genuine laughs than a year's supply of TV sitcoms - and they're just as funny on repeat reading too!

The Food Of Love is pretty much essential cuisine I'd say, if you're seeking a night out in good company serenaded by "Hairy Hutch and Suave Sartin", two of the most able musicians you could wish for, ready to respond to your every whim and mood-swing with the most delightfully appropriate music whatever its origin. Yum, it's all quite overwhelmingly good at times: feast don't fail me now - or, as I might well say to the two Pauls: "men, u is too much!"