Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman - Hidden People (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
HUSBAND and wife duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman have had this album coming for some time. Now that it’s finally arrived, it proves worth the wait.
They first came to prominence as members of Equation, along with Kate Rusby and Seth Lakeman. But while those two names left to become successful solo artists, Roberts and Lakeman opted to start a family and do more background work.
But the esteem with which they’re held within the industry is evident from the amount of ‘hidden’ guests to be found on this, their debut album. These include Sean’s famous brother Seth; the award-winning Irish singer Cara Dillon (who is married to another brother, musician and producer Sam Lakeman); Levellers’ lead singer Mark Chadwick; veteran folk troubadour Dave Burland, singer-songwriter Jim Moray, Megson’s Stu Hanna, Caroline Herring from the USA and Greta Bondesson from Sweden’s sister trio Baskery.
The album that ensues is rooted in both traditional and contemporary folk values and displays a strong song-writing passion that tackles both real-life and fantastical elements.
The former is evident on songs like The Ballad of Andy Jacobs, which tackles the miner’s strike, while the latter can be found on moments like The White Hind, which tells of a girl who is transformed into a doe, only to be slain by her hunter brother.
They also mix the slow, brooding yet achingly beautiful numbers with the more robust and upbeat, striking a near-perfect balance between tempos.
Indeed, there is so much to admire that you have to be grateful they finally got round to completing this album… more so because Roberts, too, has a genuinely striking set of vocals to provide the platform for success.
Every song rates as a near-highlight… making it hard to pick the ones that really stand out as absolute favourites. But a good starting point is Oxford, NY, which has a folk-rock vibe that’s irresistibly good value, or the aforementioned The Ballad of Andy Jacobs, which really combines a sombre central piano arrangement with a brutally honest tale of the miners’ strike, all relayed via Roberts’ heartfelt vocal. It’s utterly compelling and completely beguiling.
Lusty Smith boasts some terrific guitar work and a kick-ass back-beat that sees it rise as one of the album’s more carefree, sing-along moments, while there’s a genuine warmth to the lush acoustics and shimmering piano arrangements of The Wisdom of Standing Still.
The White Hind, meanwhile, manages to sound mystical as it relays the fantastically tragic tale of its doe… bringing an almost ethereal, Clannad-like quality to the mix at times.
And Standing At My Window, conversely, has a country meets folk rock vibe that’s tailor-made for filling those barn dance halls.
Jackie’s Song, meanwhile, brings the album to a close in suitably layered, slow-building fashion to conclude things on an appropriately thoughtful, reflective note.
Hidden People may be an apt name for an album put together by two of folk’s unsung heroes (not to mention the host of big names who appear at different points). But its quality is such that Roberts and Lakeman shouldn’t remain hidden for too much longer; rather they’ll be praised to the rafters and revelling in the acclaim that this work so richly deserves.
Download picks: Oxford, NY, Hang The Rowan, The Ballad of Andy Jacobs, Lusty Smith, Money or Jewels