Butcher Boy - Helping Hands Album Review
'Sometimes I'll write from my parents perspective and how they would have viewed the world in the 1960s,' said Butcher Boy's John Blain Hunt in a recent interview. While such references are apparent here and indeed throughout much of his band's back catalogue, to label Butcher Boy as mere revisionists with a folk-driven edge would be doing them and their music an utter disservice.
Ever since 2007's excellent debut 'Profit In Your Poetry' announced Butcher Boy's arrival in a vernacular style of their own, they've pottered away in the Glaswegian underground creating a consistent output of delicately orchestrated yet occasionally hard-hitting compositions that sets them apart from many of their closest comparators. 'Helping Hands' predecessors, the aforementioned 'Profit In Your Poetry' and the follow-up two years later 'React Or Die' mainly focused on Hunt's childhood and adolescence. While neither are completely ignored or sacrificed here, it would be fair to say 'Helping Hands' is a much more mature record both lyrically and musically, right down to the introduction of both electronica and string arrangements at various intervals.
It's been a fairly turbulent time for Butcher Boy since their last release. Finding themselves without a label, old school DIY enthusiasts Damaged Goods offered them a lifeline and finally, a good few months later than scheduled, 'Helping Hands' is finally here in all its glory.
Of the twelve tracks on offer, three are instrumental compositions that probably owe more to Hunt and co.'s recent dabblings with film scores and such like. The eerie introduction piece 'J Is For Jamie' and errant finale 'Every Other Saturday' both feel like the opening and closing title sequences to a historic monologue. Scenic interlude 'T Is For Tommy' at the record's mid-point could easily pass for the commercial break segment, and as with its counterparts doesn't outstay its welcome beyond the ninety second mark.
It's Hunt's charismatic way with words that make Butcher Boy one of the UK independent scene's hidden treasures, and across the other nine pieces there's no shortage of poetically induced commentary. Take the melancholic folk of 'The Day Our Voices Broke' for example. 'State your age, your first and second name, Kvetch as we make up, then fill the loving cup with sawdust and hazelnuts,' insists Hunt from the outset over a jaunty country-inspired melody. Sure, there are elements of Belle & Sebastian and The Pastels in their make-up, but lyrically Hunt is a one-off, a rare commodity these days.
The title track offers a similarly sombre outlook, preferring to trade verse after verse with a simple one-line chorus ('I surrender and swallow and die') that resembles a bleakness not often highlighted when assessing Butcher Boy's merits. Likewise the maudlin 'Whistle And I'll Come To You', Hunt emptying the remnants of a broken heart into a four-minute pop song ('Lights fade when you're caught and you're cold and you know you're to blame').
Moving from one extreme to the other, 'Helping Hands' also contains arguably Butcher Boy's two most radio friendly compositions to date. 'Russian Dolls' moves along like a robotic Smiths, Basil Pieroni's understated guitar virtuosity proving the Marr foil to Hunt's buoyant Morrisseyisms. Similarly, 'Your Cousins And I' takes a trip down vintage Postcard Lane, peppering its soulful ditty with sweet and sour asides aplenty ('I always saw you as a summer bride, we dream before we die').
Other times, 'Helping Hands' feels like listening to the pages of a personalised diary set to music, its references to specific times ('I Am The Butcher' - 'We haven't danced enough since we moved here') and places ('Helping Hands' - 'I keep crawling from Langside to Kerelaw, from Castlepark to Pollokshaws') only further demonstrating Hunt's exquisite talent for substituting pictures with words.
While the end-of-year plaudits will no doubt be showered on more high profile releases with bigger budgets, Butcher Boy can at least take pride in the knowledge that once again they've delivered an album of considerably high standards that in a parallel universe would surely be recognised alongside their more insignificant peers.