SKINNY LISTER – Shanty Punk (Xtra Mile Recordings)

Shanty PunkRogue folk band Skinny Lister’s new album, Shanty Punk, could well be a “best of” compilation, as this album amps up the band’s usual joyous toast to the melody of a favourite pub with the elixir of a local pint in hand. And, as the (sadly) forgotten art-rock band City Boy once sang, “Do what you do, do well”. Indeed, this is high octane folk music, a la The Pogues, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, The Albion Band (circa The Prospect Before Us), Merry Hell, Oysterband, and (lest we forget!) those God’s Little Monkeys.

The often times celebratory American poet Walt Whitman once proclaimed, “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”.

Well, Skinny Lister calls that “barbaric yawp” and raises a punk-folk poker ante with a defiant drum beat, a Bedlam based melodeon, an infinity of infectious “Hey! Hey!” shouts, a vocal trill or two, yelled enthusiasm, vociferous call and choral responses, with well-written and very circular tunes that, like the best of the Lindisfarne Gospel inked mazes, bend, twist, stomp, and shout their own ritualistic pub danced euphoria.

The first song, ‘Hale & Bale’, is a fiery glance at the Skinny Lister sound. Dan Heptinstall’s sailor swigged lead voice swags with a rough melody as the band echoes a hardy response, and the percussion pumps a pulse while the melodeon churns a melodic course through turbulent waves. This is heroic stuff. Then there’s more of Skinny Lister fuel-injected folk gospel: ‘Unto The Breach’ quickens the dance step with a “shanty punk” rhythm that vibrates into the certain vinyl release grooves. And ‘Company Of The Bar’ finally explains that algebraic x2 concept (quite incomprehensible to me in my high school math class!) that doubles the value and intensity of this full-blown tune. The song burns with a blissful abandon.

Now, just so Skinny Lister not be labelled as a bunch or “high level ranters” and a good-time pub band, it’s important to remember the group is quite capable of lovely acoustic moments. The transition between the acapella ‘Rollin’ Over’ into the mandolin-blessed ‘Trawlerman’ on their brilliant album Forge And Flagon is sublime. And the gorgeous ‘Kite Song’, with heavenly harmonies from Dan and Lorna Thomas, is textured with the grace of a warm folk halo.

That said, Lorna’s first vocal sweetly bounces the ultra-melodic country tune, ‘Mantra’, which is both a nice bit of life philosophy, and it certainly is a welcome juxtaposition to the mad rush of the first three songs.

But this is an album of full-throttled folk music. The next song, ’13 Miles’, is another signature “shanty” sing-a-long. It’s sort of amazing how many coloured song variations can be refracted through rogue-folk prism. Then, ‘Down On The Barrier’ (almost) touches the urgency of The Clash in a lighter mood on London Calling. But the bouncing beat continues with the nicely titled ‘Arm Wrestling In Dresden’. In all fairness, the song is yet another extension of the album’s continuous folk punk vibe. Ditto for the Lorna voiced ‘Pittsburgh Punch Up’. This is fiery stuff that fans similar fires, but the acoustic break amid the punky spunk is an always welcome invite. Of course, there’s more: ‘Forge On George’ is yet another (quite enthusiastic) “Drink the flagons dry” jaunty football stomp. The same is true for the alcohol pumped ‘William Harker’ that trills, howls, and then slides down any still late-night cobbled street (with a favorite latter day Fairport album in hand!), while confessing, “to the public house we’ll go”.

Then, Lorna gets the final word with the dramatic ‘Broken, Bruised & Battered’ that slows the grooves into a big cinematic finale with a tough toast and a universal celebratory (if subdued) “barbaric yawp” to a favourite pub with the magical elixir of a local pint, thankfully, always lifted in a forever defiant rogue folk hand.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘Mantra’ – official video: