Rusty Shackle -“The Raven, The Thief & The Hangman” (Album review)

Three years may have passed since Rusty Shackle released their last album, “DUSK”, but it’s fair to say they have been kept pretty busy in the intervening period. From line-up changes (guitarist James departed and incoming drummer George replaced the outgoing Owen), a homecoming gig in front of 2000 fans at Caldicot Castle in the summer of ‘17 and of course, the many hours spent researching, exploring and then recording the tracks that would become their highly impressive fourth studio album, “The Raven, The Thief & The Hangman”.

It would’ve been perfectly reasonable for Rusty Shackle to set about writing a bunch of box ticking tracks to guarantee the satisfaction of an ever-growing fan base built up over the last decade, but more grandiose ambitions meant taking a bold step into the daunting realms of recording an album consisting nearly entirely of traditional songs.

Many of the tracks on the album will be familiar to listeners, but the concept is to present the band’s own interpretation of these age-old songs. By recording such an album, the band are potentially inviting themselves for some intense scrutiny, for there are literally hundreds of versions already recorded, many by legends of the music world. To add to this pressure, these songs are already close to the hearts of the band members themselves; doing them justice would be essential.

The album kicks off with the brooding “Hanging Johnny”, a sea-shanty – its origins can be traced back over 150 years; following this is lead-off single Sam Hall”, a three-and-a-half-minute blitz of scorching guitar and fiddle riffs, backed up by a pulsating rhythm section, sure to become a staple part of their famed energetic live sets.

Of the nine tracks, eight can be traced in some form to days of past, the exception being the foot stomping, fist pumping “Newport Rising”, inspired by the Chartist Riots in Newport in 1839. Newport Rising is a riot in itself, a raucous, bass charged affair with a chorus that will have you hooked after one listen. Much is written about the revered men who led the three day march from the valleys and Newport Rising is a fitting, modern tribute to a cause still pertinent 180 years on.

As well as putting their heart and soul into this album, it is clear that the band had a lot of fun recording it. This shines throughout, none more so than on “The Raven’s Song”, a breezy slice of twee pop that completes a mid-album trinity of calmness before the climatic conclusion of “St James Infirmary Blues”and the haunting “Time of Death”, which is arguably the stand out song on the album.

With “The Raven, The Thief & The Hangman”, Rusty Shackle have produced a collection of tunes that dazzles, delights and dares, putting a neoteric slant on songs that have been handed down over hundreds of years from generation to generation. Self-produced (a band first) it demonstrates a now established group of well adept musicians willing to move out of their comfort zone without compromising what has made them so popular amongst their loyal fans.

“The Raven, The Thief & The Hangman” has already been released and is available on all the usual download and streaming sites. It is also available on CD for £10, which you can purchase here. Make sure you do!


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