SETH LAKEMAN (Ft. Wildwood KIn) - BALLADS OF THE BROKEN FEW
LCM ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Release Date: 16th September, 2016
Genre: Folk, Americana, Roots
Band: Seth Lakeman, Wildwood Kin, Ethan Johns and Ben Nicholls
Location: Devon, UK
Record Label: Cooking Vinyl Ltd
The multi-award winning Seth Lakeman was Mercury nominated in 2005 and is regarded as one of the leading lights of UK Folk music. Seth has just released his eighth studio album, the marvellous 'Ballads Of The Broken Few'. The result is something very special. It has a more Americana, soulful blues and roots feel than his previous albums, coupled with some more traditional material that Seth has made his trademark. It has an almost a spiritual gospel-like quality at times, with some beautiful sumptuous soaring harmonies. The album is a stunning combination of Seth's dynamic songwriting and playing, the genius of legendary producer Ethan Johns and the sublime harmony vocals of emerging young female trio, Exeter based Wildwood Kin. Seth first met the wonderful Wildwood Kin at a local charity gig and he was immediately struck by their effortless ability to create intuitive harmonies. Between them they have conjured up an epic, pure, intimate and soulful album of intense songs that are stripped back to their very essence. Seth has also added the very talented and 'Full English' fellow collaborator Ben Nicholls on double bass. Less is most definitely more here. Ethan has also produced albums for the likes of Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Ray LaMontagne, Laura Marling, The Staves and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
They recorded the 11 tracks ‘live’ with an organic, acoustic vibe created in the great hall of a Jacobean Manor House at Mudford Manor, Somerset and the album oozes with the atmosphere and acoustics of this setting. Some of these songs have an almost trance-like and lullaby quality. On the album there is Seth’s trademark stomp, his swooping, sighing and aching fiddle & viola and strident electric tenor guitar. Multi-instrumentalist Ethan can’t resist joining in on subtle underlying electric guitar, mandolin and even hurdy-gurdy.
“Ballads of the Broken Few” has seven original tracks plus a striking cover of “Anna Lee”, the Laurelyn Dossett song from Levon Helm’s Grammy-winning ” Dirt Farmer” album. Seth has also revisited the Cecil Sharp House archive which featured in “The Full English” project, which resulted him and other leading British folk musicians claiming “Best Group” and “Best Album” at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. He has re-worked several traditional broadsides, including ” The Stranger” and “The Willow Tree and there is also his take on a 19th century moralistic song, “Pulling Hard Against the Stream”.
I'm going to make a prediction now, I think this album is a very strong contender for BBC Radio 2 Folk Album of the Year. It's already one of my favourite Seth Lakeman album's along with the amazing and timeless 'Kitty Jay'.
The album open with the first one of its many 'wow' moments the sublime and powerful reworking of the broadside 'Willow Tree'. A potential live crowd favourite with Seth's vocals and fiddle perfectly complemented by the soaring harmonies and percussion of Wildwood Kin. Simply marvellous.
Next up the sublime 'Silence Reigns' with it's chucking violin backing and floating harmony vocals. "I'll go, I'll set my spirit free. Walk this life for eternity. In Summer sun or winter snow. Each step it leads me far for home.......Let me wander through the shades of green. Let me follow with the evening wind. Let me go now......where silence reigns."
Another beautifully written song 'Meet Me In The Twilight' has Seth on acoustic guitar and Wildwood Kin supplying their trademark rich harmonies... it's just well superb.
The album's second broadside is 'Stranger' has a real gospel feel, a tale of loss, love and isolation. Seth's haunting viola sets the mournful tone perfectly.
Painting a perfect word picture 'Fading Sound' builds beautifully. "A Man sits on the porch and taps his feet, strikes his old string box in the sultry heat. Like a million times before, he kicks the red dust from the floor."
Another album highlight (among many) is the title track 'Ballad Of The Broken Few'. With it's hand-claps, percussion, stomps, finger picked viola, 'dirty guitar' and swooping harmonies. It has a very cinematic feel and you can almost see it being used as the title music in a Western movie. It's one I'm looking forward to seeing live.
The wonderful 'Anna Lee' is a Laurelyn Dossett song from Levon Helm’s Grammy-winning ” Dirt Farmer” album. It has a lovely gospel blues feel with an almost lullaby quality. Sadly there isn't a happy ending to the song.
Firmly in Americana rock and blues territory with it's electric guitar and driving rhythm is 'Innocent Child'. "A drop of eternity's might sea. A blossom of life's immortal tree....floating, flowering everymore".
In the gentle 'Whenever I'm Home' Seth returns to familiar ground. "Whenever I'm Home, I'm glad to be back again. Whenever I go, I will miss you here my friend". 'Silver Threads' is a tender and heartfelt song about growing old and the passing of time. The album ends with 'Pulling Hard Against The Stream' is a 19th century moralistic song. We are urged to remember those less fortunate than ourselves, and to "help the worn and weary brother..pulling hard against the stream".