Chris Ricketts: singer, songwriter, shantyman, cruise ship entertainer – don’t knock it as a way of honing your trade – is back from far oceans with a new album. Songs In The Key Of Sea is his fourth album and his first for seven years. Regular sidesmen Steve Hampton and Garry Blakeley are still with him along with Matt Blackwell on keyboards, David Dove on second (or third) guitar and Noemie Belanger providing backing vocals.
He’ll never leave the sea and its songs but his approach has evolved. There are still traditional shanties; ‘One More Day’ and ‘Leaving Of Liverpool’ for example but fewer of these. The title track, which opens the record, sees Chris restating his love of sea songs, a theme he returns to in ‘These Are The Songs’. These may be in response to a “faint praise” review he received during his cruise ship days. Next is ‘Shenandoah’, a song Chris has been working on for a while – he has occasionally sent me works in progress to hear. This version doesn’t employ the longest text he’s used, which is the one I preferred, but that may appear somewhere down the line.
It is a beautiful arrangement, however, built around Matt’s piano and the arrangements lift the music throughout. Garry provides everything from a scrapey fiddle to a full string section and, as well as bass, Steve adds drums, guitars and banjo. Chris himself has increased his arsenal to include mandocello and cuatro – and you’ll be surprised where that turns up.
‘The Cross Dressing Sailor’ is another of Chris’ own songs, transferring a familiar story to Gosport and, more importantly, telling us what might have happened next. ‘Hey Stan’, a tribute to the late Stan Hugill by Dave Buckley and Jack Forbes’ ‘Tilbury Town’ are two of three covers and Chris changes the mood with the beautiful and delicate ‘St Jean Port Joli’ – a love song that just happens to take place by the sea. Finally, we are treated to a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’ given a nautical twist with its accompaniment on…yes, cuatro.
It’s good to have Chris back again. I just wonder where Tom Petty is going to lead us.
Artist’s website: www.rickettsmusic.com
‘Tilbury Town’ – live: