A Hawk and a Hacksaw mines many of the same musical veins as Devotchka, and the two bands inevitably share some things in their final products, mostly by way of inflection and instrumentation. But in the case of Cervantine and Devotchka’s recent 100 Lovers, it’s the differences that tell the tale, the divergence from common influence to wildly dissimilar execution identifying how many ways there are to process source material. The songs on Cervantine, like those of Devotchka, seem entirely self-conscious of their foundations, the band drably satisfied with a piecemeal recreation of traditional sounds. Yet that contentment with recreation somehow registers as less disingenuous here than it does on 100 Lovers, where Devotchka attempts to wedge those influences into standard rock structures.
Basically, the members of A Hawk and a Hacksaw come off as high-end purveyors of this type of reconstituted roots music. This sense of sophistication may have something to do with the confrontational opener “No Rest for the Wicked,” an eight-minute fiddle jam that announces Cervantine as an album not very interested in broad appeal. It may also have something to do with the fact that these songs, freeform distillations rather than exotic knockoffs, have no words—at least not in English.
The band claims an interest in crosspollination, and they blend Greek and Turkish composition styles to create “Mana Thelo Enan Andra.” This sense of experimentation is commendable, but also makes the album feel distant at times. Ultimately, for all its globalized interest in mixing world cultures, Cervantine is about noodling, fooling around with different styles via extended jams, which the band at least has the good sense to spice that up with a worldly palette. Yet too often the songs seem drained of any feeling. “Mana Thelo Enan Andra,” despite its noble intentions and big ideas, is indulgent and vague, like something you’d hear playing at an ethnic restaurant in a lazy movie. Only the excellent, mournful “Lajthu Lassu” establishes any kind of real emotional impact, sacrificing experimentation for a straightforward string progression.