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reviews Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1 by John Short

This is volume one of a three album project based on the shanties given to Cecil Sharp by John Short (Yankee Jack). My understanding is there were 60 songs given in Sharp’s field note books, and all 60 will be represented when the project has been completed.

The first of the volumes in being reviewed here. 18 shanties are performed by various artists, quite pleasingly they are not assiduously traditional recordings, they have allowed the artists to add their own musicality which adds a certain personality to the record.

You will hear many of your favourites here, (Blackball Line, Rio Grande, etc.) but you will be interested to hear some fundamental lyric and tune changes. The best example of this is ‘Mr Tapscott’ which is the tune of ‘Can’t You Dance the Polka’ but is highly regionalised to the Tapscott line.

There are some real gems here, I’ve never heard Jackie Oates before – her voice is mesmerising. She has an innocent, almost playful way of singing, her version of ‘Tommy’s Gone’ is both stunning and inviting. I would count this as the best, or second best version of this song I’ve heard (and as you will know there are dozens of recording of this popular shanty). Her ‘Fire Down Below’ is a close second favourite from this project.

The other recording that grabs my attention is Barbara Brown’s ‘Cheerily Men’ [sic] it seems that all the things that the group are attempting to do all come together very successfully here. This version is similar to the one you know but it has an extra line. Brown’s singing is very rhythmical and is supported in the refrain by the men of the group who also sing with great rhythm, synchronicity and an impressive amount of strength which is highly attractive. Repeat all of the above (with a little less success) for ‘Bullgine Run’.

Really impressed with ‘Shallow Brown’ which is really a version of ‘Yangtzee River’ [sic] sung by Jim Mageean. Very lively and interesting version of the song, well worth the purchase for this alone.

The rest of the record has a wistful feel of times past, which fits the material and spirit of the project well. The best example of this is Jeff Warner’s ‘Will You Go My Way’, which is comforting shanty sung as a ballad.

Even though all these songs are shanties you should expect this record to have a more ‘ballady’ feel. I suggest that this will fit well with an older audience, but not exclusively so. I would firstly recommend this album to those who enjoy well produced folk music (as stated above, the Oates’ songs are well worth the purchase price). I would also refer this to shanty lovers who [have] probably not heard the versions of these songs (I’m thinking of ‘Cheerily Men’) this record will stand proud in your shanty collection. If you are a younger folk enthusiast who gets turned on by the rowdiness of some projects, you will not get your thirst satiated here. Overall, I have really enjoyed listening to and review this album and look forward to the final two volumes.