How things can change within a couple of years. The man who many thought of as being capable of taking the English tradition, bursting with vitality, out to a younger audience has instead chosen to plough the depths of folk-pop blandness with this, his disappointing latest release.
Volume is no substitute for passion and vigour, and right from the outset you can pinpoint this as one of the failings of Poor Man's Heaven. The pounding drums that introduce "The Hurlers" had me reaching for the volume control immediately, and set the scene for what is to follow. Poor Man's Heaven is totally over-produced, with anodyne arrangements that detract from the roots-based formula so perfected on Freedom Fields. So submerged and formulaic are the traditional instruments here that it sounds merely like a folk pastiche. In particular, there are incidences where a bluesy slide guitar or bluegrass banjo is totally at odds with expectations. There are some truly horrendous, totally over-the-top vocal harmonies, that you might expect from your average chart fodder: but this is Seth Lakeman for goodness sake, he who we know can deliver impassioned vocals single-handedly.
The vocals that are turned in here often make you wonder if Seth himself was completely convinced by the arrangements he was creating: he seems to have softened his delivery somewhat and frequently appears to lack the commitment that you associate with this typically formidable singer. There may well be some lyrics here that are worthy of exploration but you won't find these reproduced in the CD booklet, and the 'packaging' in which they are delivered do little to encourage you to delve any deeper.
One can only hope that Seth abandons this path quickly and immerses himself back in the tradition that he has interpreted so eloquently on his previous albums. It would be ideal if this sent him reeling straight back to basics, just the violin and those fervent vocals that have so enthralled the folk scene in recent years; in fact, the complete polar opposite to this latest effort