Barnsley’s Kathryn Roberts and her husband, musician and producer Sean Lakeman, are very much considered British folk royalty and are part of the same mid-nineties scene that gave birth to the careers of Kate Rusby, Sean’s brother Seth Lakeman, Cara Dillion, Eliza Carthy and the modern folk revival.

In the past though, they have often been overshadowed by their contemporaries but now, after a year-in-the-making, their new scene steeling album shows that this is definately now their turn to shine.  This strong collection of self-penned songs could surely only have come from the kind of changes and experiences (Kathryn and Sean became parents to two twin girls in 2007) a couple can have during a nine year hiatus; so much so that this mainly self-penned album only allows for one traditional arrangement and one cover version. Hidden People confirms what we already knew. In Kathryn Roberts we have a very versatile and beautiful voice and in Sean, one of the finest producers and instrumentalists in working Folk today.

Opener, Huldra is the kind of atmospheric and sparse set that I have always loved about the Lakeman brothers. It fuses together perfectly a traditional English folk melody with the Scandinavian. Huldra (literal translation meaning Hidden People) has next to no instrumentation and only the slowly building layers of female vocals. It is a haunting and daring way to start the album.

Many different influences and genres are incorporated with ease. On Oxford, N.Y. and Hang the Romance, there is more than scent of Fleetwood Mac, but that suits Roberts and Lakeman down to the ground. Their fusion of rock and folk is for the most part earthy, soulful and full of conviction. It’s only when it moves into a slightly over-produced pop territory that it starts to stray slightly from the path.

Highlights for me here are easy to pick. The White Hind is an amazing collaborative effort and despite the many vocal contributions from Jim Moray, Dave Burland and Caroline Herring, the song never loses sight and is one of the strongest performances on the album. Lusty Smith has a great beat to it; one that I can imagine going down a storm in a live setting.

However, here it is The Ballad of Andy Jacobs and the closing track Jackie’s Song that beats them all. I had the pleasure of seeing Kathryn and Sean perform at last year’s Folk By the Oak Festival and even though then these songs were unknown to me, just as they did then, here they stand out as the highlights of the set.

…Andy Jacobs is a very real and heart wrenching tale of miner’s strikes and the affect it had on families and Jackie’s Song, with just its solo voice and acoustic guitar shows that this couple never really needed the tricks of the studio to sound so affecting.

With that voice and those arrangements, you can see why we have an album that easily stands up as a classic alongside even Kitty Jay and The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly.

SCORE: 8/10

Hidden People is available now on Navigator Records.

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