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Shep Woolley Shep Woolley
Album: Sailors On A Train
Label: Talking Elephant
Tracks: 12

Shep's name seems to crop up everywhere, and even a cursory glance at his exhaustive CV would place him among the most versatile and in-demand guys on the scene. But which scene?… For he's a genuine all-rounder whose talent takes him into every imaginable role, from singer of folk songs and maritime stuff to standup comic, raconteur, songwriter, scriptwriter, radio producer and presenter, event and festival director… one of the good guys, then.

In the context of the CD under review here, I guess Shep could best be described as belonging to the approved folk-comedian tradition, much in the line of figures like Capstick, Carrott and Wedlock. Shep's eight albums to date have embraced all manner of musical expression, often with a distinct leaning towards naval themes. Sailors On A Train, his latest offering, is described as a new studio album, and yet its opening track is an extract from a 2015 live performance containing a rendition of Billy Mitchell's Walking Back To Blueberry Hill, and there's another slice of stage banter from a village hall concert … Outside of which, it's back to the studio for a decidedly mixed-bag collection that takes in self-penned material (including parody shanties Down The Solent and Bound For Sunny Shotley, ersatz-rock'n'roll, a couple of recitations and, arguably finest of all, the rather more serious commentary The Best Of Times), songs by Eddie Walker, John Kirkpatrick, Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, and a fun punk-rock-thrash take on Drunken Sailor. And with some able instrumental backing from his mates Steve Hampton, Garry Blakely, Bill McKinnon and Chris Dennison, Shep can't seem to put a foot wrong. The problem for me - and I suspect the purchaser of this disc too - is that Shep's laudable desire to present a well-rounded portrait of his versatility proves too much of a double-edged sword and makes the album's emotional seesaw less convincing than it ought to be (and probably is in live performance).

But if this brand of old-school mainstream folkie-jokey-with-the occasional-serious-moment entertainment is your bag, then you'll be in heaven here. Hush in the one-and-nines there!

David Kidman