Seth Lakeman - Ballads of the Broken Few (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
SETH Lakeman is no stranger to writing songs that are packed with emotion. Yet while a lot of his back catalogue reflects the sound and influence of his home-town area, Ballads of the Broken Few broadens its horizons to similarly impressive effect.
By teaming up with legendary producer Ethan Johns (of Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Ray LaMontagne, Laura Marling, The Staves and Crosby, Stills and Nash fame) and enlisting the sublime harmony vocals of emerging young female trio Wildwood Kin, Lakeman has created a richer, more diverse sound that embodies blues as well as his classic balladry.
It also means there’s a heightened sense of grit to offset some of the sweeter elements. And this is evident from the outset, when opening track and early highlight Willow Tree opens amid some atmospheric violins and beautiful female harmonies, before dropping a kick-ass back-beat and a thrilling violin sound. Incredibly, the violin here is every bit as potent as a blues guitar, lending the track the same melancholy yet invigorating effect. And the solo bits of violin are thrilling.
Indeed, his use of violin is a marked feature throughout. It’s equally striking on songs like Stranger, which again makes terrific use of the mix of Lakeman’s aching vocal style and Kin’s sultry harmonies, creating a sound that could just as easily be at home in the swamps and backwater towns of America’s Deep South.
While title track Ballad of the Broken Few repeats the trick with added guitar sounds and is another thriller – a song drenched in cinematic elements and a grand sense of occasion. It builds and builds to some cracking moments, occasionally stripping things down to just the boy-girl vocals. But each time the instruments kick in, there’s an even greater charge to the track. It’s arguably the album highlight.
If in its quieter, more straight forwardly ballad moments the LP struggles to recapture the form of it at its best, then Lakeman still manages to infuse the songs with his rich storytelling ability, making each lyric worth taking the time to discover.
But the LP is undoubtedly at its most vibrant when going big, thereby indulging in Lakeman’s trademark stomp, his swooping, sighing and aching fiddle and viola, and strident electric tenor guitar.
It’s then that multi-instrumentalist Ethan also can’t resist joining in on subtle underlying “dirty” electric guitar, mandolin and even hurdy-gurdy. Hence, look out too for Innocent Child and Meet Me In The Twilight for evidence of these; or kick back and relax with minor gems such as Silver Threads for more simple pleasures.
Lakeman is back with a bang.
Download picks: Willow Tree, Stranger, Ballad of the Broken Few, Innocent Child, Silver Threads
Watch the video for Ballad of the Broken Few