Updated 4 July 2008 with review from the Manchester Evening News.

With the album release just days away hitting the shops this morning the reviews are coming thick and fast. Most reviewers who can avail themselves of a simplistic star rating seem to be plumping for a 3 out of 5. Breaking the mould Mojo magazine gives it a 4 in its July issue, while The Times slates it with just 2 stars in a review which largely misses the point.

Overall there has clearly been much head-scratching as to exactly what kind of music the reviewers are listening to, a defiance of genre which several clearly have trouble getting past, as if a record can only be good when it can be pigeon-holed. Combined with too many lazy stereotypes about arran sweatered, beer drinking, finger-in-the-ear folkies which display a trying, if predictable, ignorance of modern folk music from people who ought to know better, my review of the reviewers could be summed up as: 3 out of 5, must try harder.

Top Reviews: “If you are a fan of Lakeman then everything you love is here in spades”

Spiral Earth, 27 June 2008 in what is unsurprisingly one of the best informed and least cliched reviews, sums it up neatly: “If you are a fan of Lakeman then everything you love is here in spades.”. Though Iain Hazelwood does possibly get a little carried away when he writes that while “Much is being said of it sounding like this or that, more rock, more Led Zep… Actually it only sounds like one thing – Seth Lakeman becoming one of the most important artists in modern British music…” (my emphasis). Full review.

In The Guardian, 27 June 2008 (3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars) Alexis Petridis comes closest to capturing the reaction of the fans who have availed themselves of the various previews when he says “the album is at its best when it’s at its most raw, when it stops worrying too much about charming those in charge of radio playlists and lets Lakeman’s natural instinct for eeriness shine through.” Full review.

Mojo Magazine, July 2008. (4/5 stars4/5 stars4/5 stars4/5 stars4/5 stars) was one of the first to mention the now oft-repeated Led Zep vibe: “Seth Lakeman burns high octane non-stop. On this fourth album his voice is all muscularity and barely contained passions… Beneath a superficial folk-rock jigginess his band has a possibly Led Zeppelin related sense of how acoustic fiddle, guitar and double bass riffs can weigh heavy as metal.”

The Telegraph, 28 June 2008 thumbs its nose at the genre-befuddled head-scratchers: “while Lakeman’s music might cause consternation among those who are troubled by the blurring of musical categories, the wider world will doubtless enjoy it, because this is an album that’s memorably melodic, propulsively rhythmic, and sometimes hair-raisingly dramatic…it’s powerful stuff, with Lakeman’s clear, strong voice narrating a series of sharp and gripping story-songs” Full Review.

The Also Rans: “A ripsnorter of a record”

The Independent, 27 June 2008 (3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars) gets it’s cliches in early in a generally positive review: “Lakeman may be only as temporarily beholden to the notoriously purist folk scene as Bob Dylan was in 1965″ (my emphasis). Full review.

In The Times, 27 June 2008 (2/5 stars2/5 stars2/5 stars2/5 stars2/5 stars) John Mulvey leaves us wondering if he’s listened to any of the artists in question when he describes Poor Man’s Heaven as “uncomfortably reminiscent of records by David Gray and Damien Rice” Full review.

The Observer, 15 June 2008 describes it as “a ripsnorter of a record that will slake the thirst of crowds roused by a season of his festival performances” and may have a point when it asks whether “after four albums of much the same fayre, our West Country hero might usefully stray into fresh songwriting territory next time, and lose the roll call of cliches which demand that eyes are always burning, nights always dark and dawns crimson.” Full review.

BBC Online, 13 June 2008 – “His song writing continues the gold-yielding formula of its predecessor with energetic strumalongs, voracious fiddles and a sparkling delivery”. Full review.

Q Magazine, Andy Fyfe, July 2008. (3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars) “The frantic fiddle remains dominant but guitars and drums crash all around it, Feather in a Storm even adding Jimmy Page-esque slide guitar. Lakeman’s unwelcome mantle of folk’s poster boy is unlikely to slip.”

MusicOMH.com, 27 June 2008 (3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars) on the other hand finds it “predictable and polished” … “overly refined” …and “the repetition of literary and musical themes creates a staleness after 11 tracks which makes absorption of the album as a whole rather challenging”. Full review.

Teletext (7/10), 27 June 2008 thinks he is “back on form after the bland and overly commercial Freedom Fields” and “should win back hardcore folk fans”. Much as we love a positive review, it does leave you wondering if they have actually listened to either album. Full review.

Virgin ‘Albums of the Week’ (6/10), 27 June 2008 does rather better: “Lakeman highlights the rhythmic and percussive elements of the folk genre while retaining its strong pastoral spirit”. Full review.

Metro, 29 June 2008(4/5 stars4/5 stars4/5 stars4/5 stars4/5 stars) gets little swept along by the album’s dramatic imagery into some flowery language of its own: “wired with the same stirring, ale-sodden acoustica of previous works… this time the sound is larger and more urgent…[and] throb[s] with the animal energy of a live performance.” Full review.

Winning the WTF? prize The Manchester Evening News, 3 July 2008 (3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars3/5 stars) clearly have a different take on tales of murder, vengeance and self-sacrifice than most when they find it missing “some of the darkness and dourness which Richard Thompson has always found in that territory between folk and rock.”. Full review »