KATHRYN ROBERTS & SEAN LAKEMAN – On Reflection (Iscream Music ISCD17)

On ReflectionNot exactly a best of, but, to mark their 25th anniversary, the Dartmoor-based husband and wife duo have turned over their back pages and rerecorded a selection of material from their earlier days, including four from their time as part of folk supergroup Equation which featured all three Lakeman brothers alongside Roberts and Kate Rusby, and, briefly, Cara Dillon.

It’s one such that, with a stripped down simple voice, flute and guitar arrangement, opens the collection, revisiting the traditional slow waltz ‘Mother And Child’, perhaps better known as ‘The Month Of January’, from the band’s second album, 1999 The Lucky Few. Although nothing made the cut from their official 1998 debut Hazy Daze, there’s a track from the other three albums, including their first studio venture, Return To Me, recorded in 1996 but not released until 2003, represented by ‘Golden Bird’, here with icy piano and a throbbing bass line.

Their final album together was 2002’s First Name Terms, the self-penned ‘Cry Wolf’ taken at a slower waltz pace and, shorn of the overly busy arrangement, far superior to the original. The fourth selection is ‘Sailor Boy’, one of the many variations of ‘Sweet William’, originally recorded for their 2001 EP The Dark Ages, and here completely reworked to striking effect.

The same EP featured a version of ‘Lovely Nancy’, a song they also included in identical form (indeed, it may well even have been the same recording) on their debut album as a duo, 1. It reappears here again totally revamped, the original jazzy friskiness replaced by a slower, more sombre and forlorn piano and guitar arrangement that, again utterly eclipses the previous incarnation.

Their second release, inevitably titled 2, included ‘Willow Tree’, a variant on ‘Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight’, here with far richer sound, minus the piano and with Roberts’ vocals having shed the original’s Sandy Dennyish tones to fully own the song. Also benefiting from the simpler (and to be honest, previously overblown) arrangement, ‘Oxford N.Y., off 2012’s Hidden People, again emerges in a new light with Roberts’ voice in muscular form and the track riding a handclap beat and strident guitar work by Sean.

The final rework comes from 2015’s Tomorrow Will Follow Today, ‘52 Hertz’ reshaping the waltztime melody, dispensing with the drums and, to a great extent, the guitar and placing the piano to the forefront for another winning rebirth.

The album’s final two numbers are, as far as I can gather, both new, or at least never previously recorded, ‘Gryla’ clearly a piano demo on which Roberts sings and dances across the keys in her best Kate Bush as befits a story-song based on the myth of the Icelandic Christmas witch whose family gather up naughty children and put them in a stew. On an equally whimsical, but decidedly less dark, note, is ‘The Cows Of Mystery’, which, sounding like a lightly galumphing number that, delightfully sounding as if it’s being sung through a sieve, might have featured on the BBC Light Programme’s mid-50s/early 60s radio show Children’s Favourites, tells of space and time travelling bovines – yes, the adventures of Doctor Moo!!!

These may be old songs, but they appear here glowing with new life and the promise of further glorious decades still to come.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.kathrynrobertsandseanlakeman.com

‘The Cows Of Mystery’ – live:

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