Andy Turner of EDS
reviews Frost Bites by Belshazzar's FeastI’m a sucker for a Christmas album. Rousing choruses, massed vocals, jolly tunes… They’re not entirely absent here, but neither are they to the fore. The overall feeling is dignified, restrained, sombre even. Opener the ‘Cherry Tree Carol’ has a major key tune – it could be played as a waltz, but is sung quite slowly over sustained, sometimes rather menacing, chords then segues into ‘Yuleogy’, a Paul Hutchinson instrumental of glacial beauty. Similarly on the closing track, the ‘Hampshire Mummer’s Song’, they don’t play up the potentially rollicking tune, or the feel-good spirit of lines such as ‘Then bring us some of your Christmas ale/And likewise your Christmas beer’, emphasising instead the spirit of the succeeding couplet ‘For when another Christmas comes/We may not all be here’. The resulting arrangement – one of several to feature Pete Flood’s percussion – is entirely effective. In fact the only track which doesn’t really work for me is Walter Pardon’s ‘One Cold Morning in December’. I can imagine that live the two Pauls wring plenty of humour out of this song, but on CD it fails to sparkle.
It goes without saying that the duo’s playing is exemplary throughout. But since –unusually for them – songs outnumber tunes, it is worth commending Paul Sartin’s singing. On early Belshazzar’s albums I felt that, after years of classical training, he was still working out how to tackle traditional songs. He’s discovered the knack now – not by adopting artificial folky mannerisms, but by singing very naturally. In fact, his singing and speaking voice recognisably belong to the same person –always a plus in my book.
Finally, I was surprised to see, on opening the CD cover, that my name appeared in the list of thanks. Let me assure any cynics that this wasn’t thanks in advance for a positive review; my only contribution was to provide them with the source of ‘King Herod and the Cock’. And a fine job they’ve made of it.