It really is hard to believe that two years have passed since the release of the last Seth Lakeman album ‘Ballads Of The Broken Few’ (review) an album that found Seth working with folk trio Wildwood Kin on what would turn out to be a really terrific record. The album’s stripped back acoustic sound added an Americana style spin on Seth’s folk roots and the result was a record that still makes regular returns to the RGM stereo. In those two years Seth has toured ‘Ballads’ extensively often with Wildwood Kin along for the ride. He also took up Robert Plant’s offer of a spot in Plant’s Sensational Shape Shifters for a world tour that would find Seth pulling double duty as the opening act on occasion. You’d think that’d be enough to keep most people gainfully employed but Seth also found the time to record a new album ‘The Well Worn Path’.
The recording of ‘Broken Few’ took place in the Grand Hall of a Jacobean Manor House but for ‘The Well Worn Path’ Seth utilized the far less palatial confines (I’m assuming) of his garden studio at home on Dartmoor in January (typing this line actually makes me feel cold) with producer Ben Hillier (Elbow, Blur, Depeche Mode, Doves) at the desk. ‘Broken Few’ was a stripped back affair but for ‘Well Worn Path’ Seth has a terrific new band with long-time bassist Ben Nicholls joined by Kit Hawes (guitar) and drummer Evan Jenkins for a more prog rock approach as Seth calls it. I can assure listeners this is prog rock in much the same way as Jethro Tull are often tagged with the term.
Opening gently with that trademark violin drone over acoustic guitar ‘Bright Smile’ draws you in slowly before the rhythm section join in, Nicholls’ bass is cleverly prominent, all of which lays the groundwork for Kit Hawes’ meandering guitar lines. A Seth Lakeman album is all about atmosphere and by the end of ‘Bright Smile’ you’re in his world, which is always a good place to be. ‘She Never Blamed Him’ is up next with Seth’s violin now to the fore over a rock-solid rhythm track. The track is also noticeable for the first in a string of fine vocal contributions from Kathryn Roberts (Seth’s sister-in-law). The plaintive ‘Lend A Hand’ finds Seth and Kathryn’s voices blending with effortless beauty while Nicholls upright bass anchors the song.
The centrepiece of the album is ‘Fitzsimmons’ Fight’ which tells the tale of a bout featuring Cornish boxing legend Bob Fitzsimmons. ‘Fitzsimmons’ Fight’ works on multiple levels; as an enjoyable story song, as a demonstration of impeccable vocal phrasing from Seth and as an object lesson in song construction. If you only have time to try one song from the album this is the one. Trivia fans might be interested to find that the song references Nevada, which seems to point us towards Fitzsimmons' fight with James Corbett (a much bigger man) which was released as the first ever feature-length film. It is additionally notable for the fact that legendary lawman Wyatt Earp was in Corbett’s corner to ensure fair play…but that’s another story.
Those that like their folk a little more up-tempo will enjoy ‘Divided We Will Fall’ with Hawes melodic guitar lines but, for me, it’ll always be the likes of ‘The Gloaming’ that work best. ‘The Gloaming’ initially lives up to its title, with Roberts delivering another excellent vocal contribution before Jenkins comes in to add stomp to the midsection of the tune while ‘Dig New Ground’ is notable for the welcome addition of Sean Lakeman’s Hammond organ.
‘The Well-Worn Path’ is another impressive addition to the Seth Lakeman discography. Seth might be treading different musical ground to ‘Ballads Of The Broken Few’ but his trademark vocal and playing ability ensures a welcome continuity.