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"Shanties and Songs of the Sea" GRCD75

Shanties were, of course, created as work songs. Now that the workplace has disappeared, any performance must to some extent be artificial. But with Johnny Collins there is no risk that their original purpose will be forgotten. His authority and straight forward, unaffected style have made him one of the most respected singers of shanties and sea songs. With his powerful voice and great enthusiasm he would have made a perfect shantyman - he even has the right appearance for the job!

Shanties cannot be sung alone, so Dave Webber and Pete Watkinson have been enlisted to serve alongside Johnny. They provide the choruses in handsome style, though I cannot say that all seamen were such competent singers! They also supply the harmonies on the sea songs and get their chance to lead the singing too. Dave has a slightly exaggerated style in contrast to Johnny's, whilst Pete, with his gentler voice, is entrusted with the slower shanties.

Most of the shanties included here are well known - I should think Blow the Man Down and South Australia are universally known. There are also half a dozen sea songs and forebitters, including a lusty version of Maui and a harmonious Shallow Brown. I'm glad that space is made for two modern songs. I already knew Sailor's Prayer by Tom Lewis, but Hard on the Beach Oar, a riverboat song from Dillon Bustin, is new to me. The Ohio is a long way from the sea - should it, I wonder, really be a beech oar?

This collection is sung with affection but not sentiment, though the Farewell Shanty is moving. Just as parting proved difficult for Cornish sailors, leaving this pleasant company also proves difficult.

Henry Peacock

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This album was reviewed in Issue 17 of The Living Tradition magazine.