Skinny Lister – Forge & Flagon (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
SKINNY Lister’s debut album Forge & Flagon is one of the feel-good albums of the summer!
Recorded in deepest, darkest Snowdonia with producer David Wrench (Bat for Lashes, James Yorkston), the 13 tracks comprised within evoke a tremendous party spirit when keeping things lively and upbeat, or charm the heart when slowing down the pace for moments of quieter reflection.
Not that there’s too many of the latter given Skinny Lister’s apparent penchant for delivering a rollicking good party anthem that’s steeped in story-telling values and a playful sense of revelry. They seem to exist to have a good time.
Far from being a traditional folk group, Skinny Lister’s development has been an intriguing one. Fronted by Dan Heptinstall and Lorna Thomas, a vocalist with a lusty cackle and flirtatious presence, the London-based five-piece actually hail from across England.
Borrowing the nickname from the Lister family, pioneers in the use of anesthetic, the band have grown naturally and organically over the past two years. Yorkshire born songwriter Heptinstall, Lorna’s older brother Max, and long-time shanty singer Sam ‘Mule’ Brace, met some time ago at a folk club in London’s Greenwich area.
The arrival of Tyneside bassist Dan Gray and the naturally exuberant Lorna lifted them into another realm. It means their sound is diverse within the genre they’re performing in.
Hence, while album opener If The Gaff Don’t Let Us Down offers a pretty traditional shanty romp, complete with fiddles and layered vocals, it’s follow-up track, John Kanaka, is delivered virtually a capella, with just a foot-stomping beat as percussion and an exuberant set of vocals inviting a sing-along from every listener.
Rollin’ Over, meanwhile, is another fiddle-strewn barnstormer that invites instant dancing and tankard-raising revelry… as does the deeply melodious Trawlerman, an homage to a fisherman who was sadly lost to the sea.
Lorna’s vocals take centre-stage for the simple but beautifully effective Peregrine Fly, while Seventeen Summers hits you with a folksy waltz of immense charm and high romanticism.
There’s more partying to be found on the lively Wild As The Wind Blows, another of the album’s full scale romps, and on the celebratory Forty Pound Wedding, a comic tale of cash-strapped love if ever there was one (with Lorna once more taking the lead, with the boys chiming in around her at several moments).
By contrast, there’s the breezy, laidback charms of the sun-kissed Kite Song, which offers some lovely boy-girl vocals and harmonising whilst conjuring images of idyllic summers spent on green hills flying kites, or the slow-building, intricately layered and beautifully realised Colours.
Plough & Orion, meanwhile, is a tender, stripped back moment that again showcases the more subtle side of the band, complete with heart-warming sentiments.
Indeed, it’s safe to say there isn’t a bad track on this debut offering, which really ought to reward Skinny Lister for the hard work they’ve put in and place them on the map in a major way. It’s life-affirming, feel-good, heartfelt and, quite simply, one of the best listens of the year.
Get a preview of the whole album:
Download picks: If The Gaff Don’t Let Us Down, John Kanaka, Rollin’ Over, Peregrine Fly, Seventeen Summers, Kite Song, Plough & Orion, Colours