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Album Review: Seth Lakeman - Hearts And Minds

  • Written by  Rosie Duffield

Seth Lakeman’s music has transformed somewhat over the last few years.  It’s still undeniably folk, but there are traces of rock creeping in on the last album, Poor Man’s Heaven, and some of the tracks on Hearts and Minds definitely have an edgier twang to them.

The title track (and album opener) is no exception.  It has a very funky opening – well, as far funky as folk can get.  Lakeman’s vocals are punchy and passionate, as he encourages you to “hold your heads up to the sky/stand together to survive/with strong hearts and minds”.

‘The Watchman’ is also quite a catchy little number; not quite as much as the first, but a banjo and laid-back lyrics drift on to a melodic chorus.  It’s certainly more upbeat than fellow folksters’ Peggy Sue’s song of the same name, although less percussive, which is strange considering one of the lines is “oh the watchman comes/he will bang upon his drums/one two three/will you count with me/let’s run”.

Lakeman goes back to his simple folk roots with ‘Spinning Days’, a slower, mellower track.  The song is stripped down compared to earlier tracks, which makes you listen to the lyrics more carefully; words dripped in melancholy that suit their stark accompaniment: “the long goodbye/condemned inside/a chequered past/those tricks and lies/the painful price/the dark Devil’s dice/he blew his chances/and he held on tight”.

‘Stepping Over You’ is another laid-back track, with just a banjo to complement Lakeman’s vocals for the first minute or so; whilst next track ‘Changes’ is even slower.  Female backing vocals provide lovely harmonies that are refreshing amongst the solo singing on the previous tracks.

Things liven up once more with ‘Signed And Sealed’, ‘Tender Traveller’ and ‘Hard Working Man’ – which is available for free download on Seth’s website. The trouble is, by this point the more upbeat songs are starting to sound the same.  Certainly the beginning of ‘Hearts and Minds’, ‘See Them Dance’ and the aforementioned ‘Hard Working Man’ had me checking the playlist to see if we were back at the start of the record already.

The music isn’t bad, if you don’t mind folk music, but if you’re a newcomer to the genre, it might be a little violin-heavy.  And a bit repetitive.  But the slower songs provide a welcome contrast to the similar sounding faster tracks, and towards the end of the album backing vocals are introduced which makes things a bit more interesting.

Having said that, ‘Hearts And Minds’ is probably one of the better tracks – mainly because it’s so catchy.  After only a couple of listens it was my ‘earworm’ for the afternoon (could’ve been worse, I suppose).  ‘Changes’ was the other stand out track; the music is quite different to the rest of the album, and the harmonies are quite haunting at times.  The lyrics provide some lovely imagery, too: “a spider webs up/a sparkle dew/for tears we spend together/all autumn through”.

Fans of Seth Lakeman will no doubt embrace this album as a further progression of his work, but to non-folk fans it’s a bit violin and banjo overkill.  Still, if you can get past the same-y feel of the upbeat tracks, you may be rewarded by some of the gentler, more interesting ones.

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