On his eighth solo album Seth Lakeman continues to amaze in his questing journey to reinvigorate the UK folk scene. Ballads Of The Broken Few finds this quintessentially English folk musician working with producer Ethan johns, a man one normally associates with our American cousins, for a set of songs that still reek of proud Albion but reach out across the water pulling in Appalachian influences. Throughout the album Lakeman is accompanied by the vocal trio, Wildwood Kin, their harmonies another nod to the transatlantic influences here. Recorded “live” in the “great hall” of a Jacobean Country House the album is for the most part a gloom ridden exploration of death, loss and misery, a twilight album with Lakeman’s sawed fiddle raw and emotive over a funereal beat, a drone somewhat akin to that of Fairport Convention’s version of Flowers of The Forest.
The album opens powerfully with the ethereal voices of Wildwood Kin intoning over a skirled fiddle before Lakeman kicks his drum into service leading into a skewed spiritual of sorts on Willow Tree. Immediately we’re into weird folk territory, Wicker Man witchery but with an affiliation to chain gang spirituals as the beat hammers on. Silence Reigns retains the fiddle drone eschewing the beat, Wildwood Kin’s voices carrying the melody, their voices arching on the middle eight, the whole a mystical meditation equally at home in Appalachia or misty Dartmoor. Several of the songs follow in these footsteps. Stranger weeps for a drowned son, Anna Lee (a song sung by Levon Helm on Dirt Farmer) is a dirt poor lamentation for a mother drowned and Whenever I’m Home has a ringing chorus on the most plaintive of songs.
There is some variety here. Lakeman grabs his guitar for the kenspeckle acoustic folk rock of Meet Me In The Twilight which is leavened by the excellent harmonies from the Kin. Silver Threads is a tentative pizzicato number, the harmonies the highlight here and the propulsive Fading Sound recalls the heady seventies folk rock flight. Aside from his production duties Johns adds some fractured grungy and slide guitar sounds on the title song, another stomp filled belter which is somewhat bettered by the addition of mandolin to the swampy mix on Innocent Child. Here Lakeman comes across as a traditional folk response to Nick Cave. Indeed if you’re a fan of Cave’s soundtrack work there will be much here that will thrill you.