Album Review: Seth Lakeman – Ballads Of The Broken Few

Published On September 21, 2016 | By Haydon Benfield | Albums, Music

Seth Lakeman started his professional music career over twenty years ago in, the imaginatively named, The Lakeman Brothers, with his brothers Sam and Sean (their parents’ evidently fond of names starting with “S”).  A few years later the trio morphed into Equation, as they started working with Kathryn Roberts and Kate Rusby, and by the early 2000’s Seth started stepping out and working as a solo artist.  Ballads Of The Broken Few marks 8 album’s for Lakeman as a solo act, but the allure of working with a musical family has reasserted itself on the album, albeit in an unexpected way, with Wildwood Kin – comprised of sisters Beth and Emillie Key, and their cousin Meghann Loney – being drafted to back Lakeman with their luscious harmonies.

Seth Lakeman - Ballads Of The Broken FewFrom the haunting, droning, intro to Willow Tree, which opens Ballads Of The Broken Few, it becomes clear that Wildwood Kin form a perfect complement to Lakeman’s folk stylings, with his earnestly emotive vocal vibrato, while the track’s compelling groove demonstrates that he has utilised his professional experience to polish and hone his song-writing skills.  Producer Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams, Paul McCartney) lends his performance experience to songs such as the eponymous Ballad Of The Broken Few, with slide-guitar slipping into a lightly distorted crunch, adding a welcome texture to the sonic palette.  While Ballad Of The Broken Few, much like all the songs, is solidly written, performed, and recorded, its tone is far too similar to many of the record’s tracks, with about every second song on the album suffering from this “samey” feel.

There is no doubt that songs collected here will work brilliantly in a concert setting, a fact that probably wouldn’t be clear had the album not been tracked ‘live’ during recording.  This is a recording process that is too often overlooked in favour of isolated multi-tracking, which has it’s place, but can lack a spaciousness that lets a great song truly shine.  The propulsive acoustic-rock of Fading Sound, which builds in the pre-chorus – feinting toward an explosive break – only to release into pop infused folk, and the catchy and captivating, Innocent Child, are two tracks that do this recording method full justice.

Fading Sound further subverts expectations by featuring a bridge that is driven by the vocal harmonies of Wildwood Kin; it is an unexpected, unassuming, but remarkably clever approach to song-writing.  Innocent Child’s rock-meets-folk groove is applied to a more conventional structure and layering of sounds, but the song’s build to a stomping chorus and outro is in no way diminished by this fact.  Closing with the a cappella Bury Me Deep shows off the vocal strengths of all involved while also easing the listener out of the album in a calm and satisfying manner.  Despite many of the tracks feeling a little too similar to each other, there are no true duds, and the great songs stick with the listener long after the record has stopped playing.

4 / 5 stars     

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