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SETH LAKEMAN - Freedom Fields

Freedom Fields

ISCD 007

He may have missed out on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year award, but no-one did more to raise the profile of British folk in 2005 than Seth Lakeman.

It was only ever going to be a matter of time for the name of the 28-year-old songwriter and fiddler extraordinaire to seep into the consciousness of the acoustic music-buying public. He has been on a fast track to fame since his unexpected Mercury Music Prize nomination for last album 'Kitty Jay' , made for £300 in brother Sean's kitchen - and one of the fastest-selling folk albums in years. Vying with giants Coldplay for the coveted Mercury gong, Lakeman found himself at the centre of the media's "David and Goliath" story and the trigger to fame - deserved by so many talented folk artists but rarely attained - was his.

His new album, originally planned for release last autumn, was put on ice. Now 'Freedom Fields' is out, proof if it were needed that 'Kitty Jay' was no fluke. It comes with a hefty dose of expectation but Lakeman need have no fears. This is a big, bold album - percussive and deeply rhythmic. Edgy and strikingly individual it should hold his increasingly youthful followers in thrall, and, despite the post-Mercury offers, it is still released on his own label.

But where 'Kitty Jay' was a collection of material inspired by myths and legends of his native Dartmoor, Lakeman's third solo album, though still West Country influenced, advances on themes of war and freedom - complete with sounds of battle, marching and gunfire. The twelve-track album, produced by brother Sean Lakeman, takes its name from the 1643 battle site near Plymouth where the Roundhead garrison made a final rally, ousting the Cavaliers and so changing the course of English history. Backed by his usual "Trio" musicians -a dynamic Sean Lakeman on guitars and the versatile and laid-back Ben Nicholls on double bass, electric bass and (increasingly) banjo - they are joined on this album by Uiscedwr's brilliant percussionist Cormac O'Byrne, playing everything from drums to bodhran.

Seth's fiddling pyrotechnics fire on all cylinders and he delivers another high-octane performance. He shows his skill on tenor guitar too on strident numbers like "The Charmer". But it's his voice that is markedly more mature with a confidence and clarity that wasn't so evident on 'Kitty Jay'.

Seth's autumn tour audiences will already be familiar with much of the material. The lilting mermaid tale, 'Lady of the Sea' draws on his area's naval history while the strong 'King and Country' and the title track highlight the factions created by the English Civil War and 'The Colliers' focuses on the oppression of West Country tin and copper miners and a disaster which claimed 140 lives. Upbeat numbers like the frenzied 'The Final Cut 'and the marching song 'The Riflemen of War' mix with the gentle 'The Band of Gold' and hauntingly beautiful 'White Hare' which slows the tempo and which was chosen for single release. A beautifully crafted number, it tells of the night-dancing hare who will steal your soul if you meet her gaze and Nicholls's banjo playing gives it almost an underlying bluegrassy feel.

Again recorded on a modest budget the album nonetheless delivers slick sound, with backing vocals from guests including Cara Dillon, Kathryn Roberts and Steve Knightley of Show of Hands. Freedom Fields may not be not worlds apart from Kitty Jay but it consolidates the escalating reputation of an artist for whom all lights are currently green. There is simply no-one out there in the genre making music quite like this and if Lakeman stays as grounded and inventive as he has done to date there is no reason why he couldn't push the envelope all the way into the mainstream. Indie folk artists don't come much more defiantly, brilliantly, "indie" than this..

Jane Brace

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This album was reviewed in Issue 67 of The Living Tradition magazine.