Ballads of the Broken Few is the latest of eight studio albums released by folk singer-songwriter and Mercury Music Prize nominee Seth Lakeman. In keeping with the majesty and intensity of his previous releases, Lakeman’s new album was recorded live in the hall of a Jacobean manor house, the perfect atmosphere to capture the harmonies of the incredibly talented Wildwood Kin family who accompany Lakeman throughout the record.
Lakeman’s first track ‘Willow Tree’ is an exceptional start to the album. Energetic, strong and powerful, within seconds an intense atmosphere is created which explodes into a beautifully orchestrated melody accompanied with a dramatic marching beat. Wildwood Kin’s vocals are woven brilliantly into Lakeman’s in what is a very promising start to the album.
This triumph fizzles out into the rather mundane second track ‘Silence Reins’, a possibly more ‘traditional’ folk song unfortunately filled with unoriginal lyrics like: I’ll go, I’ll set my spirit free / I’ll walk this life for eternity’ amidst a repetitive viola instrumental.
Thankfully, Lakeman’s originality returns in full-force with ‘Meet Me in the Twilight’, ‘Fading Sound’ and ‘Ballad of the Broken Few’. ‘Meet Me in the Twilight’ is the highlight of the album, astonishing harmonies feature among a truly moving performance that would not go amiss within a film score. The album’s atmosphere becomes slightly darker in ‘Fading Sound’ with an intense verse which slots brilliantly into its track position which could otherwise border on repetitive.
The title track of the album has a certain ‘catchiness’ not found within the rest of the album. ‘Ballad of the Broken Few’ makes no waves musically compared to Lakeman’s other works but is the easiest to pick up and find yourself singing long after you’ve finished listening.
Neither Lakeman’s lyrics nor Wildwood Kin’s harmonies are used to their full effect within ‘Stranger’, ‘Silver Threads’ and ‘Pulling Hard Against the Stream’ rendering them repetitive and forgettable. ‘Stranger’ in particular falls rather uncomfortably between the ferocity and attitude of Lakeman’s more upbeat tracks and the delicacy and beauty of his slower songs. Similarly with cover song ‘Anna Lee’, the beauty is in the story and neither harmony nor melody contribute to or develop the original Laurelyn Dossett song in any way.
A tease of melodrama, ‘Innocent Child’ sees Lakeman exploring and experimenting with harmonies and the result is a stand out track on the album. Exciting and encompassing, with its alternative melodies and lyrics, the song prevents the album from lazily dwindling out towards the end.
‘Whenever I’m Home’, whilst not overwhelming, is a comforting ode to the cosy feeling of returning to your home after a long absence. It’s sweet, homely, familiar vibe ties up the album nicely before the somewhat unnecessary final track ‘Bury Me Deep’ with its dull, samey vibe and oddly abrupt ending.
Aside from occasionally bordering on the repetitive, Seth Lakeman’s Ballads of the Broken Few is a pleasant collection of musical tales with careful composition and truly beautiful melodies. With outstanding tracks like ‘Willow Tree’, ‘Meet Me in the Twilight’ and ‘Innocent Child’, it’s easy to see why Lakeman is so prominent within his genre and will surely continue to be in years to come.