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Saturday, 20th April 2019
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Seth Lakeman - Ballads of the Broken Few

When Devon's Seth Lakeman released his second album, the Mercury Prize nominated "Kitty Jay" in 2004, it was full of songs about Dartmoor, both traditional and those he had written. I thought 'aye-up' this sounds promising. And it only cost him 300 to record in his kitchen.

Since then, he has continued to write new songs, and, as far as I'm aware, concentrated less on the tradition. He claims to have pushed his musical boundaries and those of folk and roots music. Well, yes, he has, but this new album smacks of too much too far.

The production is by Ethan Johns who has worked with the likes of Kings of Leon, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones,  Laura Marling, The Staves, and Crosby, Stills and Nash - and it shows. At times it sounds very much americana or even country music the mid Atlantic accent popping up with dreary repetition. (Why do they do that?)

British Folk music is already becoming heavily diluted but some artists prevail in maintaining the 'tradition'. Think Nancy Kerr for new songs and Jim Moray for new treatment of the old songs. And both do it better than Mr Lakeman on the evidence of this hearing. Sure he undoubtedly has a powerful live presence but that alone isn't enough to convince me.
He does include several traditional songs, including  The Stranger, The Willow Tree, and a 19th century song, Pulling Hard Against the Stream.  But you wouldn't know it.

Once again he dismisses the studio, leaving his kitchen for a Jacobean Manor House, after previously venturing down a copper mine and into a church on earlier albums. I'm not sure this adds anything to the sound, but the addition of the almost gospel-like choir by young female trio Wildwood Kin (also from Devon) certainly does but not in a positive way.

I'm sure this album will do reasonably well in the main stream of musical tastes, but if you are a 'folkie' (like me) there is little to shout about. And I don't honestly think it will persuade the average listener to turn to the dark side of traditional music if indeed that is the aim.

Seth Lakeman appears at the RNCM in Manchester on 8th November and at the Philharmonic, Liverpool on 6th December

- Mal Robins


Seth Lakeman

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