British folk crossover Seth Lakeman turns in one of the most organic records of his career with 2016's Ballads of the Broken Few. A collaboration with sisters/cousin trio Wildwood Kin, Ballads is pares down even further from his semi-rustic 2014 effort Word of Mouth, offering spare single-mike renderings of seven new originals and four traditional and cover songs. As is occasionally his custom, Lakeman once again eschews a proper studio, opting to record at an old Jacobean manor house, with Ethan Johns capturing the sessions in all their harmonic glory. The vocal pairing of Exeter-based sisters Beth and Emillie Key and their cousin Meghann Loney with Lakeman's warm tenor is a good one and they make the most of their rich blend on tracks like "Innocent Child," "Fading Sound," and the soulful title cut, the latter of which is given some extra grit thanks to some wild distorted guitar work from Johns. Recorded in single takes around a lone mike, Lakeman and his collaborators gamely work the dynamics of the room, accentuating the liveliness of the affair with stomps, claps, and the spontaneous nuances of each unique performance. The instrumentation is generally minimalist with Lakeman's fiddle often providing the sole accompaniment to the vocal arrangements, which occasionally take on a gospel feel depending on the material. A mix of bluesy Americana and classic folk balladry, Ballads is finely crafted and passionately sung with plenty of stirring moments such as the beautiful "Silence Reigns" and "Stranger." It's a nice direction for Lakeman as he moves even more distinctly away from anything resembling pop music and into the timeless elegance of classic folk.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger