The Salts perform shanties but not quite in the way you might expect. They are five seasoned musicians with a remarkable list of credits to their names from Pete Best via Thunderclap Newman to Ben E King. Now based in the leafy suburbs of Surrey and Berkshire, Brave is their second album. All five sing and harmonise naturally but that’s not how they perform – essentially they are an amplified acoustic band with a drummer but there is even more to them.
The first three tracks are arguably Caribbean in origin – the one I hadn’t heard before, ‘Running Down To Cuba’ certainly is – and The Salts give them a tropical feel. They don’t actually play reggae, or even a pastiche of reggae, but they give the songs a real lilt. Purists may not like it but they throw in a middle eight here and there and ‘Cuba’ has a distinctly Latin break as Lee Collinson’s banjo combines with Richard Nash’s percussion for a shanty you can dance to.
‘Drunken Sailor’ is the track I wasn’t looking forward to, it really is so hackneyed. The Salts find the darkness in it beginning with just the drums before Jeremy Hart’s guitar comes in and the instrumental break is as heavy as you could wish. It’s a real crowd-pleaser. They do the same with RL Stevenson’s ‘Fifteen Men’ which is a really nasty lyric detailing a number of gory deaths. Even here they employ a string quartet as they do on the title track, the only original song in the set, written by Jeremy.
They give a nod to the American origins of ‘Johnny Come Down To Hilo’ with the banjo on top and Brian Doran’s mandolin joining it. Of course, you can’t sing it the way it was collected these days and it can be argued that once you take a shanty out of its context it has lost its purpose anyway. The Salts’ approach is a valid as that of the massed choirs who sweeten shanties for mass consumption – actually, more so. Which brings us to the final track. ’10,000 Miles’ is a song of transportation on a “government ship”, with the twist that the man is left behind while his lover is transported – a little bit of hstory. Nowadays it’s the softer, more reflective version that is heard most often but The Salts use its capstan or forebitter rhythm to bring their album to a stomping conclusion.
I’m fairly local to The Salts and I’ll see them live soon but they will be performing at the Great British Folk Festival next month and you would be well advised to take a listen. You’ll probably buy this album from them.
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‘Bulgine Run’ – official video: