Well, this is different.
Ballads of the Broken Few is a 12 song homage to the Deep South. Not, as you might expect Lakeman’s home county of Devon, but to the bluesy, southern gothic sound of the USA.
Recorded in the great hall of a Jacobean manor house, the sound is stripped back to essentials: just fiddle, guitar, drum and vocals. The only guest musicians on the album are close harmony trio, Wildwood Kin. Lakeman met them at a charity gig and was impressed by their intuitive approach to harmony singing. They appear on all tracks and are co-credited on the album cover.
Ballads of the Broken Few has seven original songs, and re-worked versions of a number of traditional broadsides, including the album opener The Willow Tree.
Indeed this first track sets out the stall for the whole of the album. The pace is deliberate, the style declamatory. The harshness of the fiddle and drum accompaniment is only slightly ameliorated by the gorgeous harmonies of Wildwood Kin. It’s not Radio 2 material, that’s for sure.
The highlights are many. Innocent Child demonstrates that you don’t need an electric band to create a powerful, big sound. By contrast, Whenever I’m Home showcases Lakeman’s unique vocal style on a song that celebrates the simple things in life.
Lakeman also has the confidence to cover the Levon Helm classic, Anna Lee. This tale of a drowned mother is sensitively sung with an accompaniment that pays homage to, but does not slavishly match Helm’s original recording.
The album ends with another Seth Lakeman original, Bury Me Deep. This short acapella song acts as a peaceful coda to an album that’s as far from being an easy listen as one could imagine.
It’s hard to tell what Lakeman’s fanbase will make of Ballads of the Broken Few. This is a far cry from Kitty Jay and even further from Hearts and Minds. The album’s appeal may be limited but, for those who take the journey, they will be rewarded with a fine collection of songs from an artist not afraid to step out of his comfort zone and try something new.Stephen Witkowski
Released September 16 2016 on Cooking Vinyl.
1. Willow Tree
2. Silence Reigns
3. Meet Me in the Twilight
5. Fading Sound
6. Ballad of the Broken Few
7. Anna Lee
8. Innocent Child
9. Whenever I’m Home
10. Silver Threads
11. Pulling Hard Against the Stream