It is reckoned that when, back in 2004, Seth Lakeman recorded his second solo record “Kitty Jay” it cost him £300.
Oh and it earned him a Mercury Prize nomination.
12 years later, in 2016, he could afford to rent a Jacobean Mansion – and hire producer extraordinaire Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings Of Leon and just about everyone else.)
But if it’s fair to say that “Ballads Of The Broken Few” – recorded live in the Great Hall no less – probably set him back a bit more than £300, then equally it is true to suggest that whatever the outlay was, it is worth every penny, because “….Few” is absolutely astonishing.
A mix of traditional, self-penned and re-visiting the Full English Project, the 11 songs here, feature barely a missed note, let alone a missed step.
Indeed the whole thing kicks off with one the trad numbers, but “The Willow” has plenty to say about the modern era too, but crucially is one of a number of tunes to feature the vocal talents of Wildwood Kin – two sisters (Emillie and Beth Key) and their cousin (Meghann Loney), also from Devon. The trio add a real flavour to the wonderfully stark arrangements here, as Lakeman’s trademark fiddle stomp is complemented perfectly.
“Silence Reins” is a little more mournful and plaintive as those distinctive tones are at their most achingly personal, while “Meet Me In The Twilight” gives its head to a wonderfully soaring chorus complete with more superb harmonies.
“The Stranger” is delightfully barren, but it’s the near campfire blues of the quite brilliantly brooding “Fading Sound” that really take the honours and will surely ensure that this record is recognised as one of Lakeman’s best.
The title track isn’t far behind in fairness – with Johns’ adding some well-chosen electric guitar licks to the sonic palette – and you can imagine that this will be a real highlight of the upcoming tour, while the cover of the Laurelyn Dossett song from Levon Helm’s Grammy-winning ” Dirt Farmer” album (one of four covers in total) is as simple as it is gorgeous.
There is admirable light and shade here, the dark “Innocent Child” takes things into another direction, while “Wherever I’m Home” is as different again, as it sees Lakeman embracing his roots – something that you can guess isn’t a problem as it is a very English record This is to the South West what the dust bowl was to the wandering Woody Guthrie.
“Silver Threads” by contrast is hypnotic, “Pulling Hard Against The Threads” looks back to the 19th century to make its point – and is incredibly relevant to 2016. A metaphor indeed for the timeless quality here.
Things end with a fully acapella song, and the duet between Lakeman and Wildwood Kin is beautiful. More than that it is a fitting conclusion to a quite wonderful journey.
“Ballads Of The Broken Few” is probably the folk album of 2016.