SETH LAKEMAN Featuring WILDWOOD KIN
BALLADS OF THE BROKEN FEW
Released 16th September
Seth Lakeman’s eighth album on from his 2002 debut ‘The Punch Bowl’ sees him taking a departure from the norm; a shift from the tried, the trusted and the expected, to give himself and devoted fans from The Mire a shot in the arm.
Bringing on board the all girl trio Wildwood Kin who’ve played as a tour support, the usual routine of crafting songs for and on his beloved Dartmoor has taken a back seat. This time Seth finds himself taking to the road for inspiration in the tradition of the old bluesmen and balladeers. In the past the studio has helped him turn out more commercial attempts but as with his most recent two albums, he’s continued the experiment with recording in locations which offer a built in ambience, atmosphere and inspiration. In this instance it’s the great hall of a Jacobean Manor House, all captured by Ethan Johns who’s also added some dirty electric guitar to add to a natural and unrefined feel.
If the last two records – 2011’s ‘Tales From The Barrel House’ and 2014’s ‘Word Of Mouth’ – took a more organic and rustic approach, ‘Ballads’ sees Seth stripping back the stripped back and moving into areas which in the past he’s hinted at but has now committed to a full baptism.
The stark and sombre interpretations take the form of seven original tracks and four covers – ‘Stranger’ and ‘The Willow Tree’ taken from the Full English collection – ‘Pulling Hard Against The Stream’ a 19th Century moralistic song and ‘Anna Lee’ by Laurelyn Dossett, the latter an ill-fated country blues cautionary tale straight from the rocking chair on the front porch. Yet within a second of the needle hitting the groove, there’s a familiar sweep of fiddle, maybe a bit more bluesy than usual, followed by the first cooing of Wildwood Kin and a less than familiar feel yet giving a hint at the warmth and soul which their contribution is going to add. Opener, ‘Willow Tree’ follows something akin to a ‘Barrel House’ template, a hint of a link to the past yet with an indication that there’s a change of focus.
The following ‘Silence Reigns’, sees the shift starts to become more obvious – introducing an almost gospel cum spiritual flavour which runs like a thread through the songs , occasionally disappearing only to resurface with a vengeance and shift the atmosphere into a transatlantic/south west England marriage. There are hints of the recognisable Lakeman in single ‘Meet Me In The Twilight’ and ‘Fading Sound’ which with ‘Innocent Child’ visits the ominous and hypnotic. Threatening to be a song which takes off, instead ‘Innocent Child’ pulls on the brakes and resisting the temptation.
Lakeman watchers will recognise ‘Whenever I’m Home’ delving into ‘Portrait Of My Wife’ territory all personal allusions and feelings and played solo accompanied by a rich viola/fiddle and a subtle contribution from the Kin. It’s the subtlety and restraint that remains as the overarching feature of the album.
Ultimately ‘Ballads’ is Seth Lakeman’s most understated and darkest piece of work, inspired and influenced by a strong blues and soul based approach. An album which proves a curve ball in the Lakeman catalogue with less of the gung-ho, hoe down folk style and ending up with mature and measured. These are deep brooding songs which contemplate scrutinise dark and intimate places.
Watch a live performance of the title track from the album here:
The Seth Lakeman website can be found at : https://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/
He also has his own dedicated YouTube channel here