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LOUIS KILLEN "Sailors, Ships & Chanteys" Knockout Productions KO-03

When I give grey-headed advice to younger singers I always point them towards my holy trinity, Larner, Cox and Tanner. These days I add Louis Killen's name to the list. Not that the man is dead; he's alive and well and singing his socks off in Washington State, USA. But he doesn't get back here very often, so I have to use his records to demonstrate that a folk revival singer can sing in the tradition of those grand old hands without being a sterile copyist. We lost a lot when he went to the States, as we did when Norman Kennedy and Enoch Kent did the same.

As proof, I give you this album, full of shanties, forebitters and ballads of the sea; material that so often gets sung so bad fiddles play too loud and too fast. Louis has a voice of authority; when a shanty needs volume he gives it! But he sings - he doesn't just bellow and stomp - he reaches every corner of the tune, showing the shape of the song, and these songs ARE so shapely. Their melodies need the right tempo to let them fly and with this singer they get them.

They have great words too and Louis Killen is a man to give them their full value. Listen to the zest of "Cruising Round Yarmouth", and the grim unfolding of "The Flying Cloud". For further evidence try "The Leaving of Liverpool", the song that started the South Street Seaport. That's how it should be done!

Most of the songs are sung unaccompanied, some have concertina, mandolin, or chorus support by the "Out of Shape Chanteyman". The track listing shows no surprises, but though the titles are familiar the performances are as far from the mundane as Washington State is from Washington, Tyne & Wear.

Roy Harris

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This album was reviewed in Issue 18 of The Living Tradition magazine.