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STEVE KNIGHTLEY, SETH LAKEMAN & JENNA - Western Approaches Hands on Music HMCD20

Steve Knightley and Phil Beer have so many musical incarnations outside their phenomenally popular acoustic partnership, Show of Hands, it's getting difficult to keep up. Knightley has hit the ground running with his latest recording, which sees him joining forces with two young fellow West Country musicians - Seth Lakeman (vocalist, tenor guitarist and fiddler extraordinaire) and the amazingly gifted 16-year-old keyboard player and singer, Jenna Witts.

Knightley acts as the catalyst and, despite having worked together for such a short time, this fresh new band manages to sound surprisingly tight and upbeat on this debut album. It's an exciting concoction of pooled creation and I love the juxtaposition of the material, covering new songs from all three, but also reworkings and singing of each other's numbers. The song Jigsaw - first track on the album - perfectly epitomises this "work in progress". Some pieces fit together well whilst some are temporarily missing.

Steve contributes mandocello and cuatro to some numbers whilst his rich, textured voice is effective on Seth's sad The Ballad of Josie (from his wonderful Dartmoor-inspired Kitty Jay album). Conversely, Seth has breathed brilliant new life into Steve's The Keeper with its gamekeeper/WW1 analogy, adding a "Jacky Boy" chorus merely hinted at in Steve's more downbeat original. The much-heralded Jenna has a startlingly mature voice for a 16-year-old who recently sat her GCSEs. She sings a lot about the sea, sand and surfers she can see from her North Devon home - capturing the momentum of the tide in Surfers' Storm, offering a reflective moment in Sand in your Shoes and conjuring up the beauty of a sunrise in her mellow Dawn Wave. Her songwriting is still simplistic and the harmonies safe rather than adventurous but she is on a fast track to learning her craft. Seth, one of the most exciting performers around, contributes the subtly flowing Image of Love which contrasts completely with the frenetic Captain's Court, which is Lakeman at his dynamic, high energy best.

Elsewhere, Knightley revisits his wonderful 1999 song Track of Words whilst Jenna sings his delicate If I Fall and Seth has rearranged Knightley's punchy, political number Cut-throats, Crooks and Conmen. But most intriguing is Knightley's new song Crooked Man - a sparse, superbly crafted number that subtly delivers a menacing beat and message, moving from innocent nursery rhyme to scary global politics and showing why he continues to be one of the finest singer-songwriters on the circuit.

Western Approaches is an album that grows on you, with its many musical twists and turns. And this new band has legs so let's hope it's not a one-off, one album affair. It would be a shame to leave the jigsaw unfinished.

Jane Brace

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This album was reviewed in Issue 59 of The Living Tradition magazine.