One of the most distinctive voices, literally and metaphorically, in contemporary folk music, Make Your Mark, self-produced, is Lakeman’s 11th solo album and, joined by longtime collaborator Ben Nicholls on bass, Benji Kirkpatrick on bouzouki, mandolin and banjo, Birmingham Conservatoire principle percussionist Toby Kearney and backing vocalist Alex Hart, another tour de force of words and music.
Arriving timely on the heels of COP26 and with surely a nod to Extinction Rebellion, the slow walking rhythm ‘Hollow’ sounds an apocalyptic note as he asks “Did you hear the final warning, too late too loud/Did you hear the people calling with no hope, no way out/Did you feel their anger rising, through the air and all around”.
More uptempo and lively, ‘The Giant’ tells of the rescue of a 30ft whale that got beached on the Devon coast, the massive effort to save it affording an observation of the good in humanity as he sings “there are those who can kill with no hint of remorse/There are those who detest and deprave/But there on the edge of the wave torn rocks/There were those with the power to save”.
Anchored by drone and propelled by fiddle and Kearney’s solid marching beat drums, ‘Love Will Still Remain’ treats on a familiar folk theme of love enduring beyond death (“I’ll still be here a word away/In silence and in space”) in the memories of times shared, the pizzicato (bouzouki?) notes of the slow paced ‘Bound To Someone’ guiding another number about an enduring relationship as it tells of a sailor (“His face … rough and rugged… hard as the granite clifftop”) returning after years at sea to “unwind the hard times” and try to rekindle the fire that went out with his leaving.
The steady, measured track also speaks of inner strength and fortitude, of how it’s not the deed we accomplish that define us but how we achieve them (“It isn’t what you’re made of, it isn’t what you say/It isn’t where you come from, it isn’t what you gain/It isn’t where you end up, it isn’t where you start/It’s how you make your mark”), his fiddle and stomping percussive beat kicking the tempo back up on ‘Coming For You Soon’, another number with environmental concerns as he speaks of the destruction of rural lives and landscapes (“How long my rolling valley will you be mine to see”) as those who “ raised their stock, and graced the fields with batch of rolling gold” are supplanted by the tide of construction and development led by those who “care not for the sunrise, for the birds at early dawn” until all that remains is “merely just an echo of the town we left behind”, a soulless legacy of those who betrayed their birthrights.
The first single from the album a number that again looks back on the days “long before the time/Of metals and machines/With all the harvest loosely gathered in”, ‘Higher We Aspire’ is a rousing and immensely catchy folk rock number that I’d place money on having borrowed its melody from The Everlys’ ‘Always Drive A Cadillac’, its message about aspiration and a call to arms is tempered, however, with a reminder that “the higher we aspire, the further we can fall” and, thus, we must build on solid foundations, “merit those we follow, and choose the right way home”.
It heads into the second half with the mandolin colours of ‘The Lark’, which, as you might assume, is about nature and follows the traditional folk path of lovers seeing the birds building their nests as “a message clear/That love itself would never end”, though adding “As long as there were larks for us to hear” again sounds a conservationist note. The album released just a few days after Remembrance Sunday, there’s another timely resonance to the marching beat ‘Side By Side’ and its sketch of a gathering on the streets, a parade carrying banners “of crimson gold and green” and a thin black ribbon in memory of “a son or daughter/Who now lies beneath a stone” and “the ones who’ve fallen”. That final image is immediately picked up on ‘Fallen Friend’, as “a little clutch of strangers shares a table at the bar” to drink to “a friend that now has fallen”, their disparate memories coalescing to forge single portrait, the lines “Well, none shall, disappear/Or waste away the years” and how “the eyes will glisten at the mention of his name/And the sources and the substance and the legend he became/To save the lives of others for no better life to claim” conjuring the work of the poet Rupert Brooke.
It wouldn’t be a proper folk album without a song about fishermen, and so Lakeman casts the nets out for the spare and atmospheric ‘Shoals To ‘Turn’ as he details “a harvest moon on the sea tonight” and the wooden boats out on the bay waiting for the fish to head their way; naturally it comes with a built-in metaphor too.
It heads to a close with the mandolin-led, steady drum rhythm ‘Underground’, a song that harks back to the closure of the pits (“They’re closing down the gates/The money men have had their say/She is past her sell by date”) and those cast adrift (“with empty towns empty streets/No work for us to find”) after a life at the seam. , followed by the scampering fiddle-driven and tumblingly sung, thigh slapping Irish-tinted ‘Change’ with its theme of ‘progress’ in agricultural methods (“there were those who sneered and stuttered at the quaintness of his ways/He farmed the way his father had throughout his working days/Keeping up a way of life both cumbersome and slow/And scorning modern thinking for those skills of long ago”) in the quest for more and quicker returns (“One of his old lessons often lingers on my mind/This field of corn is late he said we’re a week or more behind/Upon his knees he’d say to me with his fingers round a stalk/You might like to run away but nature likes to walk”).
Make Your Mark ends with the six-minute plus, reflectively stripped back, minimal reverb guitar and almost funereal slow march of ‘Constantly’, like ‘Love Will Remain’, another song about death, remembrance and being one with the earth from which we come, as against a backdrop of the changing seasons, he sings “think of me when you’re bound indoors by rain…and I will be with the morning when you rise.. Think of us on some clifftop high above the sea
That breath of wind is me”. It’s an obvious line given the title but, Lakeman has most certainly made his mark, and it’s one of true quality.
Artist’s website: www.sethlakeman.co.uk
‘Higher We Aspire’ – official video: