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THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND - All 'Tide' Up Cock Robin Music CRM096

Three Sheets to the Wind are an occasional trio of veteran UK traditional singers: in alphabetical order, Derek Gifford, Geoff Higginbottom & Keith Kendrick. Now, I may have once worked for Trinity House as a lighthouse keeper, but many an infant has been taken away from the breast knowing more about sailing than me! So, that said, I am immediately on dodgy ground when I hold a nautical expression up to the magnifying glass. But what the heck: "in for a penny, in for a pound". So here goes.

"Sheets" in nautical terms, means "ropes". The ropes that control the sails. Now, if the three ropes (sheets) controlling the three sails have become unsecured and are blowing loose (three sheets to the wind), then the ship has lost control of its sails. Thus it is, that I give them the title of the most inappropriate name for a group EVER. Why exactly? Aren't there THREE guys here? And does it not also mean "very drunk"? Well, yes. But the double entendre fails because what the three of them are about "par excellence" is, not a lack of control, but the opposite: a deeply impressive command on lyric, harmonic and melodic line. And drunks don't "do" TOTAL CONTROL.

So whilst I would not entrust any of these ersatz Sea Dogs to even row me across my local Cleethorpes Boating Lake, I would happily let them sing for me, if my life depended on it. They approach their work with real passion, and I salute them for producing a nicely varied album of shanties and contemporary songs. A seriously good album. All three of them do their fair share of work. No fewer than 18 tracks: so you are not short-changed in terms of listening time. The highlight for me was Geoff taking lead on "I Sailed the Sea", which I was surprised to see he had written. A very decent song, beautifully arranged. And just listen to the other two come in, some 41 seconds into the song! A real "tingle factor" moment, redolent of CBS on top form. (Quick thought: hyphenate your surname, Geoff, then we can call the group a better name. Like what? Well, "KGB" of course! Ha!)

The arrangements (for three voices) on 17 of the 18 tracks, were all worthy of praise. Only one track failed for me: Gordon Lightfoot's "Edmund Fitzgerald". Now as a paid-up-member of the Lightfoot fan club, I have to say that I never really rated this song very high in his canon. But even if it were a better song, it was somehow wasted on three fine voices like these. Their arrangement could not elevate it. It is primarily sung as a Gifford solo, and he sings the melodic line very well indeed. But the other two are wasted: they are relegated to the roles of "spear carriers" here, making heavenly choir "Oo-Oo" noises. Seems to me if they wanted to do a song about a tragedy on the Great Lakes, then Stan Rogers' "White Squall" would have lent itself more easily to interpretation by a trio of male voices. But a minor criticism of what is otherwise a fine album. An album that on occasions proved (oh gosh, suddenly their choice of name is vindicated! For I was going to use a word, and caught myself about to say it).

But say it I will (even if I am left with egg on my face). An album that on occasions proved to be "quite INTOXICATING".

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 59 of The Living Tradition magazine.