Accused of pandering to the masses ever since his 2004 sophomore album Kitty Jay picked up a surprise Mercury Music Prize nomination, folk troubadour Seth Lakeman's sixth studio effort, Tales from the Barrel House, couldn't be a bolder riposte to his critics. Free from the shackles of a major record company, the first release through his own Honour Oak label is arguably the most primitive, impassioned, and resolutely uncommercial album of his career, not to mention the most independent his having written, produced, and played every instrument on its ten tracks. Recorded at a disused cooperage and featuring a plethora of makeshift percussion ranging from an old Salvation Army drum to an array of anvils, axes, and chains, this heartfelt tribute to the dying trades of his beloved West Country heritage could have turned into a gimmicky affair. But Lakeman's poetic way with words, rugged charm, and earthy, everyman tones ensure the unusual techniques on display serve as merely a complement and not a distraction. Indeed, from the foot-stomping opening lament to miners of "More Than Money," to the romanticized ode to the art of carpentry on maudlin closer "The Artisan," his authenticity is never open to question. There may be little in the way of light relief, with only the jaunty Celtic jig that interrupts the stark bouzouki-led atmospherics of "Blacksmith's Prayer" and the singalong chorus of the gritty, country-tinged "Hard Road" deviating from the brooding intensity that swarms the record. But other than the funereal dirge of "Salt from Our Veins," Lakeman cleverly manages to combine his workmanlike approach with a warmth that's been largely absent from his more recent mainstream fare, none more so than on the gorgeously delicate balladry of "Apple of His Eye" and the stripped-back love song "The Sender." Bravely rejecting his crossover status, Tales from the Barrel House is a convincing return to form which proves Lakeman is a far more engaging prospect without the aid of a studio polish.
Tales from the Barrel House Review
by Jon O'Brien