Seth Lakeman Tales From the Barrel House Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A fine, genuinely solo sixth LP from the Devon-born folk artist.

Colin Irwin 2012

The 00s were a mad time for Seth Lakeman. Recorded in his brother’s kitchen for about a halfpenny, his Kitty Jay album of 2004 won him a surprise Mercury Prize nomination which launched the surreal merry-go-round that only a major label can bring – supermarket promos, breakfast TV slots, major rock festival slots – as Lakeman became the nearest thing modern Brit folk is ever likely to get to a teen idol.

It was a heady trip, but Lakeman’s music became disturbingly one-dimensional in the frenzy. So it's with evident relief and relish that he’s dispensed with band and trimmings, formed his own label and made a genuine solo album, playing all the instruments – and there are plenty – himself.

It’s also a concept album of sorts, built around the traditional – but dying – trades of his beloved Devon, paying homage to carpenters (The Artisan), blacksmiths (Blacksmiths Prayer), watchmakers (The Watchmaker’s Rhyme), cider-makers (Apple of His Eye), fishermen (Salt From Our Veins) and tin miners (More Than Money). The songs are passionate and heartfelt with a conviction emphasised by Lakeman’s enlightened approach to the recording process – he went down a copper mine to achieve the distinctly rarefied sound on opening cut More Than Money and recorded the rest of it in the barrelhouse of the title, a disused cooperage at Morwellham Quay. While there, he availed himself fully of the various artefacts, using bellows, anvils, axes and chains as additional percussive accoutrements on an album big on atmosphere, drama and sincerity.

The great rock star experiment has seemingly left him with a few bad habits – the accentuated vocal tremolo, the occasional lack of diction and a propensity for lyrical cliché. But sonically this is a gem, predominantly built around cello, banjo, trademark fiddle and that colourful percussion – while he proves himself a classier songwriter than was previously evident. Why, he even gives us a fine love song (The Sender) and a persuasive ballad (The Artisan) to offset the intensity conjured by the bloody deception recounted in the album’s one proper traditional track, Brother of Penryn.

The subject matter may be familiar territory, but this is no comfort zone.

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