As a general rule of thumb, adding an orchestra to something makes it vastly different. Examples of things that would be made wildly more interesting by the addition of an orchestra include train stations, casual conversation and bathtime. The opposing list is a difficult one to begin, and yet Seth Lakeman’s new EP, recorded with the BBC Concert Orchestra, gives us five songs that make an excellent starting point.
The new versions of the Lakeman crowd-pleasers on Seth Lakeman Live with the BBC Concert Orchestra – including ‘Kitty Jay’ and ‘Lady of the Sea’ – are a good listen, if not quite managing to make themselves definitive renditions. Lakeman’s virtuosity is, as always, impressive and he easily holds his own as the central presence on each track. But this is at the expense of the orchestra itself, which become subordinate to fairly unimaginative expansions of familiar arrangements. Too often, the result is a Christmas-mitten-cushion to the bare-knuckle punchiness of the originals.
The EP will make a lovely memento for the concert’s original attendees, and a fun diversion for Lakeman completists. It’s a minor release, whose limited edition status makes it apt for the singer’s core audience. If Lakeman’s creative impulses are dragging him towards more cross-genre collaboration then this could all be very exciting – his flirtation with hip-hop for the BBC’s Made in England documentary was a tantalizing start – but this time round he’s delivered a record that’s somehow less than the sum of its parts.
Words: Tom Moyser