|Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman|
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman — Personae (9 Mar 2018)★ WEDDED in life as in music, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman won the best duo gong at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2013 and 2016 with good reason. There is nothing Roberts’s voice can’t express — its rich tonality, colouring, impeccable phrasing and projection gobsmack and Lakeman’s intricate, crystalline guitar and symbiotic support vocals mesmerise. The duo are superlative lyricists. In 2012, they released the gut~wrenching Ballad of Andy Jacobs about the South Yorkshire miners’ strike, nominated best original track by BBC Radio 2 folk awards, while Tribute Of Hands similarly absorbs with the legend about the founding of Antwerp and The Street of Cats Who Dance time~travels to St Malo in 1772 and a deadly incident in the night.
★ These are personae most definitely gratae and are not to be missed on their current tour of folk venues from until May.
★ Kathryn: I’d loved to have sung a duet with Lowell George, the late singer of the group Little Feat.
★ Sean: I’d love to work with Larry Campbell. A Woodstock based American multi~instrumentalist who I have admired for years.
Location: Barnsley, South Yorkshire, West Dartmoor, England, UK
Genre: Contemporary Folk
Album release: 9 March 2018
Record Label: Iscream Music Records
01. The Knights Ghost
03. Tribute of Hands
04. The Poison Club
06. The Street of the Cats Who Dance
07. Boney’s Defeat
08. Old, Old, Old
09. Goddess Made Flesh
What informs your music and songwriting?
★ Lots of history, legends and myths. We live on Dartmoor so that stuff is all around us. Also, we get to travel more than most so we pick up stories from interesting places all the time. It’s all about keeping your eyes and ears open.
How have you evolved as a band over the years?
★ Shared experiences are invaluable to any partnership so whether it be surviving a tortuous situation together or making a new musical discovery the fact we do it together strengthens our bonds both artistically and personally. We feel very lucky in that respect.
What are you up to at the moment artistically?
★ We have just released our fifth album together, entitled Personae. It’s pretty eclectic, with songs about a Belgian giant, an elderly tortoise and ghostly knights. We are out on the road touring the songs for most of the year.
What’s on your rider?
★ No egg sandwiches!
Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
★ Turning up to a star~studded festival backstage in Detroit carrying a smelly and leaking carrier bag of vomit. Quite an entrance!
What song do you wish you’d written?
★ “American Tune” by Paul Simon
What’s your worst lyric?
★ “He missed out on otters and abandoned seal pups, Lands End, dinosaurs and a blind horse to feel up, On day trips we had from Penzance.” — K Roberts 2017
★ I enjoyed Kathryn and Sean’s previous album mostly on an intellectual level. Whatever they have been doing since has had an energising effect — perhaps Kathryn’s experience with Fotheringay has something to do with it — but Personae absolutely bubbles with energy and a sense of fun in the choice of subjects to write about.
★ The set opens with ‘The Knight’s Ghost’, a ballad of tragic death and spectral visitation. This is glorious, pure folk~rock with a guest appearance by Sam Kelly and the album can never look back from this point. Now the gentle, thoughtful ‘Independence’, about the relationship between mothers and daughters, stands as a contrast to its boisterous predecessor. Comparison has been drawn with Kate Bush and there is something in that and with hindsight there is hint of Sandy Denny in the melody. ‘Tribute Of Hands’ is another original about the founding of the city of Antwerp. You may ask why until you hear it — what a great story. Sean’s guitar leads here as it does on the opener.
★ Next is the album’s only cover, Sandy Denny’s ‘Solo’. Kathryn starts almost in imitation of Sandy with just piano until Sean’s acoustic guitar joins in but as the song builds she makes it her own. ‘The Poison Club’ is a light~hearted ragtime tribute to various popular narcotics but the chorus carries a warning, “once you’re a member you’ll never have enough”. We are back in history for ‘The Street Of The Cats Who Dance’, another fairly gruesome tale.
★ The other traditional song is ‘Boney’s Defeat’ which, under a variety of titles, has recently regained popularity. It’s a favourite of mine and Kathryn’s multi~tracked unaccompanied vocal is a tiny tour de force. With a knowing smile, I’m sure, they follow it with ‘Old, Old, Old’, the story of St. Helena’s oldest inhabitant, a giant tortoise. ★ History missed a trick here as Napoleon died a decade before Jonathan was hatched. Finally we have the very Denny~ish ‘Goddess Made Flesh’. It meditates on artistes who died young and, though you can draw parallels with Sandy’s fate, for my money Amy Winehouse is a more realistic inspiration.
★ In my humble opinion, as they say, Personae is Kathryn and Sean’s best work to date.
Review by Jason Ritchie, Score: ****
★ Husband and wife duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman have been recording and performing for over two decades, during which time they have won twice Best Duo at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
★ Their latest album ‘Personae’, is a mix of self~penned songs and traditional songs given the Roberts/Lakeman musical makeover, plus a cover of Sandy Denny’s ‘Solo’.
★ Sam Kelly guests on the opening song ‘The Knight’s Ghost’, a traditional lyric with the musical arrangement by Roberts and Lakeman. ‘Independence’ is a beautifully written and performed song about the relationship between a parent and child.
★ Roberts’ vocals are reminiscent of Kate Bush and the piano and guitar weave in and out of the vocals to great effect. ‘Tribute Of Hands’ is a jaunty tune, whilst ‘Old, Old, Old’ is a jolly song based on Jonathan, a giant tortoise thought to be the world’s oldest living land animal. Sean’s brother Seth guests on fiddle on this one.
★ The cover of Sandy Denny’s ‘Solo’ is simply sublime and connects the dots musically as Kathyrn Roberts appeared in the Fotheringay reunion shows in 2015, the band which was formed by Sandy Denny. Interestingly the version on here sounds less folk than Fish’s cover on his ‘Songs From The Mirror’ album. Both versions are a fine testament to Denny’s song writing talent.
★ Listening to ‘Personae’ you can see why Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman win the awards they have and with this album I wouldn’t be surprised if they win more awards. An accomplished album which is a delight to listen from start to finish. © Belov: Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, Pic credit: Keith Belcher
|Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman|