The Longest Johns - debut album ‘Bones in the Ocean’(May 26, 2013)
The shanty is a staple of English folk tradition and has been for hundreds of years. Currently, shanty singing is undergoing something of a resurgence and there are more artists writing shanties incorporating both old and new tunes. So when The Longest Johns sent their debut album ‘Bones in the Ocean’ to FolkWords it immediately became my ‘play it again’ request of the week.
The Longest Johns is a Bristol-based, four-man, a-capella group singing self-penned and traditional folk songs and shanties. And I for one find their irresistible energy and faultless harmonies from tenor-top to bass-bottom to be wholly additive and up there with leading shanty singers. And as with all good shanty-men you get the distinct impression that most of their lyrics are written with tongues placed firmly in cheeks.
To the uninitiated, the opening song ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ tells a tale seemingly over-blessed with innuendo until you realise that ‘captain’s daughter’ is another name for the infamous ‘cat-o-nine tails’ and then it takes on a whole new meaning – especially the last verse. The eponymous ‘Bones in the Ocean’ offers a supremely tuneful take on the a-cappella style and transcends the shanty label to become a moving, thought-provoking folk narrative with soulful harmonies. They hit the pure shanty switch again with ‘Men I’ve Known And Killed’ and with its hand-clap percussion ‘The Retirement Song’ serves up a sing-a-long momentum that audiences will have to work hard to resist.
The ‘live’ tracks include a fine take on ‘Haul Away Joe’ with credit for inspiration going to Port Issac’s Fisherman’s Friends, the rollicking ‘My Son John’ and a laughter-generating ‘The Last Bristolian Pirate’ (freely borrowed and adapted from the Canadian group, The Arrogant Worms) that takes a stab at today’s dwindling job prospects.
The Longest Johns are Josh Bowker (tenor) Johnathan Darley (bass) Dave Robinson (tenor) and Andy Yates (baritone) – and if you have a hankering for a-capella folk and shanties you’ll have to go a long way to find better. You can find The Longest Johns here: www.thelongestjohns.com
Reviewer: Tim Carroll