The question whether Seth Lakeman is a folk or rock singer has vexed a few people of late, not least when there was a mild uproar in the former community over his nomination for best traditional song at last year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. It’s not something new for Lakeman, who in the mid–90s joined Kate Rusby and Cara Dillon in the equally divisional Equation.
Poor Man’s Heaven, his fourth solo album, won’t settle the debate to any great degree. The sound that he established on Freedom Fields has been tweaked only slightly, adding more band muscle to his own acoustic playing. Musically, you’d be hard pressed to call it a traditional album, having more in common with The Levellers than Martin Carthy, but his lyrics do manage to maintain a connection, delving into tales often inspired by the dark side of real life events from his home on Dartmoor (-Solomon Browne’ is about the 1981 Penlee lifeboat disaster). The problem is that you would never guess it from the tracks on offer.
Unlike many of his contemporaries on the current folk scene, Lakeman neither evokes the raw nature of the tradition (Rachel Unthank) nor takes any genuine chances (Jim Moray, Bellowhead). He’s left floating somewhere in the middle, trying to straddle two camps but in danger of engaging neither.