Inspiration can come from anywhere. In the case of Almost A Sunset by Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman it seems to come from everywhere. Gargoyles, Robin Hood, tight rope walkers, even lions in revolt are spun into gold by the duo. Inspired by Roberts love of reading, they bring alive the most unlikely material in a way that transforms and captivates with the two providing almost all the accompaniment needed.
Instead of providing a lesson in history, ‘Eavesdropper’ does not the tale of a paranoid Henry VIII who installs gargoyles in the eaves of Hampton Court to hear all the goings-on. Instead, it’s a diatribe about political oppression and social inequality. Going back and forth between traditional piano and something more modern, the “do as we say not as we do” mentality is on full display, (“That’s the way the working person/ Has been cast down on their knees/ Punished by liars and thieves/Conmen who do as they please.”)
From southern Devon’s Dartmoor, in ‘Pew Tor’ Roberts sings using the contemplative tones of the silence and sanctity she experienced there, highlighted by the sounds of birds that open and close the song. Returning to the region she is caught up in the quiet and lost in a reverie, with the final verse offering a simple, yet telling moment, “I’d have all my battle scars on show/ For all the world to see and know/ And I’d show them to everyone who asked/And wear them with pride like a map of my past/ Beauty can still be seen through the cracks/ If we’re looking.”
Tightrope walkers are not generally a subject of song, yet ‘Ropedancer’ provides tribute to Charles Blondin, with Roberts using his voice to offer lessons for all of us. “Skipping the high wire, gambling and dicing with death/Up where the air is cold and clear/In the calm on the far side of fear.” While the piano takes up the melody, Lakeman’s guitar offers a tension akin to that of the man risking his life for the thrill and the calm.
With drums rocking, ‘The Fall of the Lion Queen’ takes the view of lions ready to revolt against their master. A tour-de-force for Lakeman’s playing, driving and urgent, Roberts both provides the menace, “You take the left, I’ll take the right/When she prods you with her stick keep her occupied/I’ll make my move when she can’t hide/On her last day at the circus!” and the expected release, “Then we’ll go home, back to the plains/We’ll never see this damned cage again/We’ll escape the ownership of men.”
Almost A Sunset offers ample evidence that Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman are still at the top of their game. They find the majesty in the commonplace, while finding perspectives that take their music to new heights.