A simple affair, with Lakeman’s near-falsetto, beguiling voice running the show.
Charles De Ledesma 2007
The Punch Bowl is singer songwriter Seth Lakeman’s first album, originally released in 2002. Lakeman has since become a name to watch among Britain’s folk resurgence with follow ups, Kitty Jay and last year’s Freedom Fields. Whereas the latter two are more musically dense offerings, with sharper shapes and elaborate arrangements, The Punch Bowl is quite a simple affair, with Lakeman’s near-falsetto, beguiling voice running the show.
The Punch Bowl’s strengths then lie in the raw appeal of the songs and the indie-aesthetic that gives the set an emotional warmth and directness. However, the set – at least compared with Lakeman’s later work – also has weaknesses, in the underproduction, which can leave the voice weak and stranded, and in the inclusion of a number of undistinguished tracks, presumably fillers.
That said, the opening song, Lakeman’s early trademark classic "Garden of Grace", is an infectious Brit-folk masterpiece worthy of a Dick Gaughan or Roy Harper, with memorable lilt and enigmatic, assertive wordsmithery. Elsewhere, when Lakeman pushes his voice forward, as on "April Eyes" and the title track, there is again a robust melodic fervour but the quieter numbers, in contrast, rather sink without trace. There is only one folk-jam, "Scrumpy's Set", which although hardly virtuoso, does show what his band can do armed with fiddles, concertina and viola.
If you're already a Lakeman fan – and he has a strong base after being nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2005 – and haven’t got The Punch Bowl, then it’s for you. Otherwise, stick to the Devon-based singer’s later works which exude both confidence and sophistication