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Fanfarlo serves up awfully clever folk-pop with a Harry Houdini twist

Roslyn Walker is a true escape artist, a guy who does it in grand, old-school fashion, like his predecessor Harry Houdini. So when Fanfarlo singer Simon Balthazar was scripting the video for "The Walls Are Coming Down" — a rollicking, near-vaudevillian track from his astute folk-pop combo's debut album Reservoir — he thought the magician would provide the perfect finishing touch. And it's now up on the Web for all to see — the band playing joyously in a small chamber, while a straitjacketed, upside-down Walker wriggles above their heads, suspended like a bagworm.

"Roslyn is pretty unique, in the sense that there aren't many professional escape artists at all anymore — there are just a handful in Europe," says a still-awestruck Balthazar. "We asked him before the video shoot, 'How long can you hang upside-down?' And he said 'Oh, about four-and-a-half minutes.' And we said 'Well, you know our song is 4:15,' but he said he'd be all right."

But Walker wasn't all right, exactly. He'd planned the perfect escape, but forgotten one small detail. "Obviously, we had to do a few takes to make sure we got a good one," says Balthazar, sighing. "And normally, he'd perform that trick once, which is really taxing. But he had to perform that escape four times in one day! He was literally bleeding out of his armpits after the third take!"

Ultimately, it was all just part of Fanfarlo's retro-themed vision, which includes old-timey instruments like saws, mandolins, ukuleles, trumpets and clarinets, and lyrical topics like Howard Hughes, noted exorcist Pellegrino Ernetti and eccentric UFO enthusiast Harold T. Wilkins. Even the band's name is historically chic, referencing a dancer from a novella by French decadent Baudelaire. And their frontman — real name: Simon Aurell — also rechristened himself Simon Balthazar as an exotic affectation, when he moved to London from his tiny Swedish village outside Gothenburg five years ago.

Naturally, Balthazar is quite the bibliophile. As a kid, he says, "I used to read an incredible amount, because I was living in such a small, isolated place and there were very few people my age. I'd be devouring and re-reading terrible boy's adventure books, maybe an occasional interesting book. But then I started reading everything I could find at local libraries, like the entire Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. And a real favorite of mine was [Mikhail] Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita."

Balthazar recently finished a riveting biography of Houdini. "And it describes his whole interest — along with Arthur Conan Doyle's — in spiritualism," he recounts. "And it was that weird cross-section in history between all these amazing inventions coming out and the decline of religion. So within this incredible enlightenment, there was still all this superstition floating around — it must have been a very interesting time."

While Fanfarlo was recording Reservoir with producer Peter Katis in, of all places, Bridgeport, Conn., their leader kept his intellect stimulated by regularly reading New Yorker magazine. A few months ago, his dream came true: A sketch of his band appeared in its prestigious pages. "It's a real honor to have your cartoon drawn in there!" he enthuses. "Although I first found out it was in there when I read it on the Internet, which is where I tend to hear of most things."

scene@csindy.com

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