Shanties seem to be coming back into fashion, which some of us regard as a good thing, and Chris Ricketts’ debut solo album is thus a timely collection of traditional shanties and songs of the sea given modern treatments. He starts out traditionally enough with ‘South Australia’, ‘Hanging Johnny’ and ‘Round The Bay Of Mexico’ which will do nothing to upset the purists. Then he slides into ‘The Mingulay Boat Song’ and things change. Sir Hugh S Roberton’s lyrics have undergone considerable editing over the past eighty years (does that make it old enough to be called traditional now?) and Chris’ text is broadly that of The McPeakes. It is at this point that his band: producer Steve Hampton, Alex Stack and Garry Blakeley begin to make their presence felt. ‘Blood Red Roses’ rocks and ‘Spanish Ladies’ is rich and full-bodied.

There are two modern songs: ‘Boston And St John’s’ by Alan Doyle and Stan Rogers’ ‘Northwest Passage’. The latter is a well-known and absolutely classic song and the manner of a singer approaching it is a measure of his quality. Chris opts to perform it unaccompanied, without even the support of backing vocalists on the chorus and he alters just one note, dropping even below Stan’s bass on the final syllable of each verse. The final ‘Leave Her Johnny’ has a wistful end-of-the-road feel which brings the record to a satisfying close.

A collection of shanties is an album I always feel at home with. You can sing along with a rousing chorus or reflect on the tribulations of life at sea and this is a record I could happily put on repeat to do just that.

Dai Jeffries

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