The Dark Ages
(self-produced, 2001)

Officially, Equation has been around since 1994 when brothers from Devon, Seth, Sean, and Sam Lakeman, joined with Yorkshire lasses Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts to determine their own particular equation: KR2+SL3=42.

During the ensuing years, the band has undergone some changes. Rusby left and has become a successful solo artist. Cara Dillon, from Northern Ireland, now also a solo artist, came and went as well. The male line-up also has changed, as two of the Lakeman brothers departed. As performers came and went, the band's material went through some changes as well. Initially known as traditional artists, they started performing more folk-influenced popular music and started to develop a following in North America. The current band, however, comprising Kathryn Roberts (vocals), Sean Lakeman (guitar), Darren Edwards (bass), Iain Goodall (drums) and James Crocker (electric guitar), has seen itself fit to release a five-song EP of traditional songs re-arranged in a Steeleye Span/Fairport Convention sort of mode. To be honest, this EP merely serves as a teaser for their next full-length CD to be recorded and released sometime in the near future.

While the group's forays into pop were fun, The Dark Ages demonstrates that they are so much more than a folk-influenced pop band. These traditional songs have been arranged so delightfully that while it's obvious they aren't brand new pieces of writing, they don't sound like your grandfather's folk music. They're the next generation continuing the work Fairport and Steeleye started before they were born. Indeed, the closing track, "A Drummer Won My Love" is former Fairport bassist Ashley Hutchings' witty arrangement of "A Blacksmith Courted Me." Edwards' bass is reminiscent of Hutchings' own prominent style.

"Lord Gregory" may bring to mind Steeleye's Maddy Prior, as she has recorded a version of the same song. However, Equation unequivocally has created its own rendition. Roberts' voice is gentler than Prior's, but she creates her own strong lilts on the high notes. Roberts' clarinet tags along behind her vocals and adds to the forlorn mood created by the song's sad narrator. At the same time, the song isn't a downer. Its moderate pace matched by guitars and drums keeps it upbeat.

All of the songs on this EP concern love in one way or another -- searching for love, losing love or even attempting to make love. The drums and electric guitar, along with Roberts' mellow, inviting vocals, give the bawdy "The Cuckoo's Nest" a laid-back, yet sexy, rock beat. "Lovely Nancy," which follows "The Cuckoo's Nest," is an excellent contrast in styles. Roberts sings along solely to the accompaniment of a jazzy acoustic guitar, and her voice flits up and down the scale in its own jazzy rhythm. On this traditional number about a lover saying a temporary good-bye to his "Lovely Nancy."

While Equation's next full-length album might feature songs aimed at a singer-writer, or even pop, audience, The Dark Ages makes it clear that they haven't lost touch with traditional material. This all-too-short EP also makes it obvious that while traditional songs may be hundreds of years old, they definitely don't just belong back in the dark ages.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 5 January 2002