Seth Lakeman - "Kitty Jay"
Self-described indie-folk artist Seth Lakeman plays the violin, viola, and tenor guitar on his Mercury-shortlisted album, "Kitty Jay", and sings as well. He wrote most of the tracks on the album (the exceptions are traditional songs), basing each on the old stories, myths, and legends of Dartmoor, England, where was born and still lives.
The subject matter of most of the songs is dark, and compelling. A ship lost at sea, the suffering of men who worked tirelessly in copper mines... murder. The music is beautiful -- Lakeman's brother Sean plays guitar, electric bass, and mandolin on the album; other musicians add double bass, drums, vocals, bouzouki, and church organ. While the sound is certainly unlike, say any of the other Mercury nominees or just about anything you're likely to hear on the radio, there's a nice variety amongst the songs themselves. They don't all sound alike. Lakeman, fortunately, sings with the passion that is required to make these old stories seem relevant. There's a sweetness to his voice as well, which is somehow reassuring given how grim some of his lyrics are. I'd call it a "spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down" effect, but I like his songs too much to compare them to medicine.
mp3:Seth Lakeman - The Streamers (based on the traditional song "The Streams of Lovely Nancy")
mp3:Seth Lakeman - Blood Upon Copper (the subject matter is not cheerful, but this is excellent and... you can even groove to it. Is that wrong?)
Seth Lakeman's official website - includes lyrics to "Kitty Jay" (currently available only as an import in the States, so it's a bit pricey but it's worth it)
Seth Lakeman BBC Radio concert
Mercury Prize Website - if you sign up for their mailing list, you get access to their members' area (ooh, la la), which at the moment includes a video of Seth Lakeman performing "Kitty Jay"