Wednesday, 2 November 2011

REVIEW: Ricketts rocks shanty town

One of the benefits of working on FolkCast is that sometimes you get invited to gigs. Chris Ricketts launched his new CD in Portsmouth, and he sent us an invite to the show.

Chris Ricketts: new album is a Victory
It was excellent, as is the album "Port of Escape". Chris mainly sings shanties, but these are shanties with new folk/rock arrangements - "shanty rock", as he calls it. He's toured Canada and played festivals in Germany and Poland, but this is his first CD. I knew we were in for something different when he mounted the stage carrying a Flying V electric guitar, and so it proved. Different, but both new and traditional at the same time.

Yes, he and the band rocked, but they also brought a different focus to some shanties when they took them at a gentle, reflective tempo, emphasising the melody rather than the strict beat of these working songs.

Backed by bass (acoustic, electric and double), fiddle (acoustic and electric) and drums, Chris explored the shanty tradition thoroughly, with genuine respect and knowledge of the genre, while making familiar songs sound fresh, new and vital. His approach brings out aspects that can go unnoticed, like the purity of the melody or the elements of loneliness and homesickness in the words, especially when he treats the shanties as songs, rather than the rythmic chants we know well.

Yet he and the band rocked the house, too. Starting one shanty by singing accapella the first stanza of "I Fought The Law" (and pausing so that the audience could sing back the "I fought the law and the law won" lines), then going into the traditional shanty lyrics with stabbing electric chords and staccato, spare drumbeats just proved that a good angry singalong song is the same anywhere, whether it's labelled "shanty", "New Wave" or rock'n'roll. And no, I can't remember which shanty was involved. I was enjoying myself far too much to make notes. I also had a gob-smacked classical musician hanging off my arm, absolutely loving the noise that folk/rock makes.

I have no hesitation in recommending "Port of Escape". Details of how to get it are on his home page and it's worth the tenner he's asking. If you'd like a preview, download October's FolkCast and listen to the final track, Chris' gorgeous version of "Leave Her, Johnny". You won't be able to haul a sheet in to it, nor wind up an anchor, but when it's robbed of the tempo required for those tasks, you'll find out what a lovely song it is.


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