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reviews Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1 by John Short

…in the Watchet Town Museum I picked up the first volume in a projected 3-CD set of all John Short’s songs. Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1 was put together under the auspices of Tom and Barbara Brown. They have brought together an eclectic group of lead singers, each of whom was given free rein with the arrangement of their songs. The result is a diverse collection that highlights the move from shanties as historical worksongs to their current presentation as social and performance pieces. One of my big dislikes of shanty sessions is their lack of variety. That is not the case here. There are some more ‘traditional’ representations of shanties as worksongs, but Short’s musicality is given full credit both in straightforward hauling shanties like Shallow Brown (and I warm more and more to Jim Mageean’s singing) and in Carry Him to the Burying Ground. Sam Lee’s singing of the latter is assured and complex, but I do not find his reading of songs yet as compelling or convincing as, say, Jackie Oates’s fine take on Fire! Fire! here. Jeff Warner’s banjo points to the breadth of Short’s musical adventuring. I’m a big fan of Jeff Warner, and particularly enjoyed his warm and delicate Won’t You Go My Way? (He touches on John Short’s repertoire on his new solo album too.) At its best, this CD points to the same tendency seen in Watchet: these songs are part of a man’s life, and are part of how he lived that life. In celebrating the songs, we have to celebrate the singer.