KATHRYN ROBERTS & SEAN LAKEMAN – Personae (Iscream Music ISCD16)

PersonaeI 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.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.kathrynrobertsandseanlakeman.com

‘The Knight’s Ghost’ – official audio:

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman announce new album

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman

Duos come and duos go. And some nurture and fine tune their art and watch it grow into something totally original, captivating and award-winning. Bonded by an unseen alchemy, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman have entwined their professional and personal relationship into an enviable class act of imaginative songwriting and musicianship.

The Dartmoor-based husband and wife have twice won the coveted Best Duo title at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (2016 and 2013), consistently delivering assured, distinctive performances whether live or recorded.

Over two decades of performance they have never been trapped in a groove – always bold and innovative, mixing traditional song arrangements with (increasingly) their self-penned material which reels from the bitter to the sweet, the wry to the sad, the political to the passive, across folk, rock, country and blues genres.

A deft acoustic and electric guitarist and slick producer, Lakeman’s feted skills are matched by the exquisite voice and fluid piano and flute playing of Barnsley-born Roberts.

After a break to have their twin girls the former Equation band members returned in fine form with two acclaimed albums – Hidden People  (2012) followed by Tomorrow Will Follow Today (2015). The 2012 release included their outstanding song about the South Yorkshire 1980s miners’ strike ‘The Ballad Of Andy Jacobs’, nominated for Best Original Track at the 2013 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Personae, their landmark fifth studio album is an eclectic emotional see-saw of material, melding ten tracks of traditional ballads and their own versatile material, not surprisingly produced by Sean.

The album opens with a rousing, percussive folk-rock version of the Child Ballad ‘The Knight’s Ghost’, with Sam Kelly on guest vocals.

It leads straight into one of the stand-out tracks of the album – the plaintive original song ‘Independence’, about the relationship between parent and child and finding your way in the world, with its Kate Bush echoes.

The inspiration for their songs is often unexpected and quirky. ‘Tribute Of Hands’ is a fast-moving original song for a city – the giant-killing legend of the founding of the Flemish city of Antwerp.

Kathryn’s sublime vocal tackles Sandy Denny’s strong and elusive torch song ‘Solo’ in the one cover on the album – her favourite Denny song from the time she joined the Fotheringay reunion line-up in 2015. The mood then flips completely with the jaunty tongue-in-cheek Roberts/Lakeman number ‘The Poison Club’ – shades of Sergeant Pepper delicately laced with cyanide, arsenic and hemlock!

The poetic Seasons is an arresting short journey mirroring love with the turn of the calendar and the duo again unearth unusual subject matter with ‘The Street Of The Cats Who Dance’, inspired by the true story of a change of Breton law in 1772 when they ceased using a pack of English Mastiffs to police the nightly curfew in St Malo after the grizzly death of a naval officer.

Two contrasting songs bound by a common theme follow – Kathryn’s multi-tracked voice telling the story of ‘Boney’s Defeat ‘before moving to the duo’s wonderful country-style song about another St Helena resident.

While Tomorrow Will Follow Today featured ‘52 Hertz’ a song about a lonely misfit whale -here they revisit the animal world with ‘Old, Old, Old’, a quirky anthem written from the perspective of the 185 year-old giant Seychelles tortoise Jonathan with Seth Lakeman adding his fiddling skills.

The album closes with the beautiful and enigmatic ‘Goddess Made Flesh’. Asking the question “was she an icon or was she a fraud?” it’s a pensive piece rueing the loss of many young talented performers and wondering how their lives may have unfolded.

Once again Roberts & Lakeman have created an album by turns curious, thought-provoking, moving and magical – a complete cornucopia astutely delivered by one of the most intriguing, uninhibited and popular duos on the scene. Most definitely not personae non gratae.

Personae is released on the Iscream label on March 9th and distributed by Proper Records.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: https://www.kathrynrobertsandseanlakeman.com/

‘Solo’ – live: