Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman – Almost A Sunset: Album Review

The Roberts & Lakeman partnership surpass even themselves.

Release Date: 17th March 2023

Label: I Scream Music Records

Format: digital / CD

Even with the rose-tinted glasses pushed stylishly atop the head, as committed fans, we’re fully aware that anything in the Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman body of work is going to be dressed with lashings of quality. In sporting terms, where they say form is temporary, class is permanent, K&S (as they shall now be known for the sake of brevity, although Kroberts & Slakeman does have a certain ring) never seem to lapse into the comfortable lull of the former.

Remarkably, it’s been five years since their Personae record, although they did celebrate their silver anniversary of music-making with the On Reflection collection back in 2020. The new offering, framed in a stylish Lily Lakeman silhouetted portrait image of her mum & dad against a Dartmoor sunset, contains the sort of musical fine art that has, in the past, earned K&S past acclaim in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and beyond.

The inspirations are plentiful; Mary Shelley, Charles Blondin, Sarah Winchester and Dartmoor sit alongside the faithful Trad. The latter only accounts for 3 parts of the ten pieces, providing more evidence for the duo as a potent songwriting partnership who remain invariably linked with the folk genre. Regardless of labels, it’s their skill in matching narrative with unfailingly magnetic and seductive tunes that makes Almost A Sunset such a resounding success.

Passing over the opening few seconds of Eavesdropper where you might be excused or thinking you’ve been delivered a Kate Bush album by mistake (achingly clear piano & vocal) they head out on a journey that kicks off with a bouncing number carrying a “do as we say, not as we do,” message. Conmen, liars and thieves – sound topically familar? – make an early appearance and that’s even before a Robin Hood cameo later on the record. That comes in the fascinating two part tale of Red Rose And White Lily – well worth delving deeper into the tale via Child #103…all wicked stepmother, lost love and…is that Robin Hood emerging from the shadows of the greenwood?

That strident bounce continues as Ropedancer can’t fail to charm, particularly with the way the “In the calm on the far side of fear” line that dances in trademark K&S style; a style epitomized by Call My Name, a song offering the sort of sagely advice for which they have an uncanny knack. The spacious vocal effects on Fear Not The Mountain mix ambitious experimentation with a choppy acoustic Tull-esque piece – inevitable given Kathryn’s brief cameo on the flute. It brings to personal mind Clannad’s soundtrack for the 80’s TV series of Robin Of Sherwood – probably a dancing round the fire in a show of bucolic jollity at one of the pagan forest rituals, presided over by Herne The Hunter while the wicked Sherrif and Guy of Gisbourne wait in the shadows to pounce. As the tempo is upped, the band – or is it?- join the circus for The Fall Of The Lion Queen. Two and a half minutes of frantic folk rocking like champions, with Sean providing the one man Lakeman rhythm section.

And from the breathless to a stunning trio that bring the album to a close that place a strong emphasis on Sean’s prowess in the production stakes in capturing the fragile and the intimate that we’ve already encountered on Pew Tor – one that sits alongside Bound To Stone as a pair of their most achingly exquisite pieces. Bound To Stone itself – some unusual sounds at the start while the tape is rolling (or digital equivalent) – is possibly the pick as Kathryn channels the inner turmoil (“on the run from the gun that won the West“) in thoughts of Sarah Winchester (widow of William whose family created the repeating rifle known as ‘the gun that won the West’. Absolutely beautiful stuff and a couple of lines/phrases (“only Sarah goes there“, paler than a glacier’, “reflecting her disgrace“) that sit on the winner’s podium with the highlighted line from Eavesdropper.

That craft comes in a rush via Nightvisiting and A Year Without A Summer (maybe an upright piano somewhere here judging by my primary school memories of said instrument and Sean’s ‘present in the room’ production). The former from the Traditional canon, yet given a heartbreakingly touching arrangement, the latter evolving from solo piano to a dreamy reflection. You may find yourself holding yourselves to listen for a breath or a tick or creak of the studio chair (like Springsteen’s Nebraska) at the start of each recording – and apologies for anyone who found me doing the same in a parked car with the CD player volume turned right up to capture an insight into their studio.

The old showbiz maxim, commonly attributed to P.T.Barnum, runs with the notion of always leaving your audience wanting more. As a taster for their tour that begins on 18th March, and armed with a clutch of these songs (hopefully…) the fans shold be flocking to fill the rooms before the sun sets.

Look out for our Q&A with Kathryn & Sean coming very shortly, but for now

Here’s Pew Tor:

Kathryn & Sean online: Website. /Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube

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