It would be very tempting, and equally easy, to review Seth Lakeman’s new album “Ballads Of The Broken Few ” as a development of his already solid body of work. Indeed, it would be difficult to avoid littering the piece with references to previous recordings, with this collection being a sideways glance to such a theme, or a deviation from such a style.
And there would have to be the usual stock of knowing nods and winks to other members of the formidable Lakeman clan. Use of the word “dynasty ” is almost mandatory.
But let’s do something different here. Let’s review “ballads of the broken few” as a standalone album in it’s own right, as it will, and should, be heard. Difficult to ignore what has come before, perhaps, if you’re already a Seth Lakeman fan. But then again, if you’re already a fan, I’m happy to go out on a limb at this point and say, confidently, you’ll love it, so stop wasting time reading this and go buy it.
But for those of you not yet familiar with Lakeman’s work, or who are new to the folk genre, let’s start with what it’s not.
It’s not for the feint-hearted. No skippety-trip down the well-trodden leafy lanes of English folk clichés, this. There’s not a cheeky blacksmith or a lovelorn maiden or a sailor’s ghost in sight.
There are three traditional songs, but they are re-worked to sit easily and consistently among the seven original tracks and one cover, and so they offer no comfort to any listener hoping for a more gentle introduction to the genre.
All the tracks share a common approach to arrangement; instrumentation stripped back to the barest essentials, some tracks featuring nothing more than a two-string drone of a fiddle and occasional foot-stomp, with a rich variety of textures and atmospheres conjured by truly excellent vocal harmonies provided by Devon trio Wildwood Kin.
The resulting soundscapes range from modern country to very early gospel choir, all the while rooted in a folk style that is as compelling as it is distinctive.
Stand out tracks are “Whenever I’m Home”, the 19th century moralistic “Pulling Hard Against The Stream” and a wonderful cover of Laurelyn Dosset’s “Anna Lee”.
The whole album was recorded as live in the hall of a tudor mansion, and retains the feel of an intimate performance which so many folk albums lack, and is all the better for it.
This is a beautiful album, delicately arranged and deftly produced, delivered with all the surety and confidence of a true craftsman. Not for the feint-hearted, as I’ve said, but all the more rewarding for the effort of engaging.