Album Review: Chris Ricketts – Port of Escape

A good young shanty singer is exactly what the folk scene in this country needs. In a time when folk music is in some sort resurgence, it’s very much the more ‘contemporary’ sounding acts that are making waves. Not unexpected in a world full of X-Factor cast-offs and a new star every minute mentality – but there is a tradition to keep alive here, and I’ll stick my neck out by saying my money’s on people like Chris Ricketts to do just that.

For songs of the sea is where Chris has gone with his act, and a fine and worthwhile direction it is. After an unjustified mixed response to his last album, 2010’s ‘Simple Folk’ with bass player Mark Willshire – it was evident from that record that Chris’s future lay with breathing new life in to traditional songs, and the shanty tradition in particular.

From the first song on this new record, the shanty favourite ‘South Australia’, you can tell it immediately means business. The recording quality is first class, with everything mixed perfectly. Chris’s voice sounds rich and powerful, and with instrumental backing from such fine musicians as Garry Blakeley and Steve Hampton, it’s got quality written all over it.

The track listing is well thought out, with upbeat numbers interspersed with slower ones, both of which work well together and showcase Ricketts vocal range, and indeed his grasp on the shanty tradition. Classics like ‘Hanging Johnny’ and ‘Haul Away Joe’ are given well performed run-outs, alongside slower, yet no less well known tracks ‘Spanish Ladies’ and a quite brilliant acapella version of Stan Rogers ‘Northwest Passage’ – last given a run out of note on Show of Hands Cold Frontier album some 10 years ago.

However it is the second of only two original numbers on this record that is top of my tree. The Alan Doyle penned ‘Boston and St John’s’ has always been a favourite of mine, being one of few UK fans of the mighty Canadian shanty band Great Big Sea, of whom Doyle is lead vocalist. It is one of those rare tracks that could quite easily be a traditional song of the sea, and in Chris’s version it certainly conveys the feeling of an old classic.

In covering this track, whether intentional of not, it is a tip of the hat to the current crop of acts worldwide that are keeping this tradition alive, and in Port of Escape, Ricketts has put together an album, and indeed laid the foundations for a career that will serve him well for many years to come.

Check Chris out at www.chrisrickettsmusic.com

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