Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Seth Lakeman - Hearts & Minds

Seth Lakeman shot to fame in 2005 when his second album Kitty Jay, which he recorded independently for a meagre £300, was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize. It was a surprise inclusion in the field for the Devon born folk artist, but his presence alongside such artists as Coldplay, the Kaiser Chiefs, and that year's winner Antony and the Johnsons immediately propelled him to a new level of stardom. Kitty Jay was re-mastered and re-released on Relentless (an imprint of EMI Records), and tours followed including a stint supporting folk-rock giants the Levellers.

Overnight Lakeman had gone from a relative unknown even in folk circles, to a breakout artist with mainstream success and a major label record deal, and it's fair to say he hasn't looked back since. Hearts & Minds is his third album since Kitty Jay, and in some ways he has been repeating the same trick over and again during that time. This is another collection of original poppy-folk material, characterised by Lakeman's distinctive voice and raucous fiddle playing, but it also continues the rockier trend that was introduced on 2008's Poor Man's Heaven.

High Points

Title track 'Hearts & Minds' kicks things off on the right note, a brief electric guitar intro gives way to more traditional folksy melodies, it's rousing call-to-arms verses and singalong chorus should get everyone in the mood.

The poetic 'Spinning Days' showcases Lakeman's voice, proving he can carry a tune and convey the emotion that his songwriting deserves. Spectacular vocal performances are not Seth Lakeman's real calling card though. Furious fiddle playing and thumping good tunes are, and there's plenty of that to be found on this release. 'Tender Traveller' is a high point, with it's chaotic layering of banjo and violin textures, and references to shadowy figures "closing in" it's a tense, claustrophobic tour de force.

The Verdict

It's hard to argue that Seth Lakeman has put a foot wrong since hitting the mainstream, and Hearts & Minds is no exception to that. He continues to do what he does best, effortlessly creating original folky material with genuine popular appeal. Apart from the vocal performance, which is strong throughout but not remarkable, the only thing I can say against this album is that Lakeman makes it seem so easy it almost devalues what he has created. If he can produce an album of this quality every two years with no sign of diminishing returns, well it makes each album less special. Fans won't worry about that though, and nor should they, there is a body of work being built up here that they will enjoy for years to come.

Final Score: 80%

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