Personae is the 5th studio album from husband and wife duo Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, and consists mainly of original material with a smattering of traditional songs, sewn seamlessly together.
Lakeman plays guitar, whilst Roberts sings and plays piano and flute. A wide range of topics inspires their songs - from the reminiscences of an elderly tortoise, to the legend of the founding of the city of Antwerp.
The album begins with a traditional song, the Child Ballad, The Knight’s Ghost. This is a powerful opening to proceedings with its clear vocals and driving pulse. The story is painted in sound by subtle changes in the instrumentation. Sam Kelly joins Roberts as a guest vocalist.
In contrast to the feistiness of the first song is Independence. This has a lovely flute introduction, which then hands over to the piano. Roberts’ singing style changes to a much more vulnerable sound in this song, voicing the concerns of a child learning to make its way in the world.
Two songs deal with rather unusual stories: Tribute of Hands details the circumstances which led to the founding of the city of Antwerp. Of course, there is a thwarted love element, as one would expect, coupled with an energetic, infectious melody.
The other unusual story delights in the title of The Street of the Cats Who Dance. According to the sleeve notes, the Breton part of St Malo ceased using a pack of Mastiff dogs to police the streets at night following the death of a naval officer. Obviously, the feline population felt this was cause for celebration. The song is sung from the point of view of the officer’s beloved who vows she will never love another.
The rendition of the traditional song Boney’s Defeat is striking in that it is completely a cappella, a single voice for the first verse, with a harmony added in the second verse and another layer in the third.
The song which follows it, Old Old Old, is strangely linked. It is sung from the point of view of an elderly tortoise who has several things in common with Bonaparte. He also lives on St Helena and says he has known defeat and victory. Seth Lakeman adds some fine fiddle to this track.
All of the songs on Personae are delivered with great skill and in a variety of styles, by these two gifted musicians and songwriters, making it a joy to listen to.Shelley Rainey
Released by I Scream Music on 9 March 2018.
1. The Knight’s Ghost
3. Tribute of Hands
5. The Poison Club
7. The Street of the Cats Who Dance
8. Boney’s Defeat
9. Old, Old, Old
10. Goddess Made Flesh