Classic Americana Albums: Brendan Croker & the 5 O’Clock Shadows “Boat Trips In The Bay”

Munich Records, 1988

A German folk magazine once described Brendan Croker as ‘a sympathetic, maybe rough, pub-rocker with big ears and one of the most pleasant musicians to come out of England.’ Whilst that isn’t the most flattering write-up, it’s most certainly true and he also happens to have made a series of simply brilliant albums from the mid eighties onwards that have inevitably not been given the recognition they so richly deserve.

Croker was born in Bradford and after moving as a young man to Leeds he dabbled in music and then met virtuoso guitarist Steve Phillips, who forced him to get a little more serious about his musical intentions.

This spurred Croker on and he recorded his debut ‘A Close Shave’ in 1986 with a series of glorious covers and a few originals.  His music was mainly covers of relatively unknown blues or folk songs but with a warm and original take – including reggae, South African jive and other ‘exotic’ styles.

Some months after this debut he recorded his second album ‘Boat Trips In The Bay’ – originally for Rhino Records. This album continued the stylings of his debut – and was all the better for it.

It opens with Croker’s wonderfully distinctive blues shuffle take on the traditional song ‘Lonely Boy In Town’ with some fantastic guitar picking in the middle (and throughout the album) by Croker. Up next is an original, ‘The Shuffle’, a beautiful instrumental – it’s understandable that he’s sometimes known as England’s answer to Ry Cooder.

Next up is a reggae influenced reinterpretation of traditional song ‘Railroad Blues’, followed by another fantastic self penned instrumental ‘The Polka’. Then there’s a truly stunning, haunting reading of Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Last Train To Glory’.

The highlight of the album is the cajun treatment Croker gives to another traditional track – ‘Let Me Explain’. This cracking song is a regular track I put on compilations I do for friends and always gets a fantastic response. The bass on the album by Marcus Cliffe is really accomplished – never more so on this track.

The album is rounded off by another Croker original, ‘Darlin’’, which has an almost ‘pop’ sheen to it and is a re-recording of a track off his debut, ‘A Close Shave’.

The thing that shines like a beacon from this album is the love and affection Croker has for this music. His vocals have a mesmeric effect – being a joyous combination of roughness and sensitivity. It’s no wonder he subsequently worked with the likes of old mate Mark Knopfler; Eric Clapton; Tanita Tikaram and many others – including a stint as part of The Notting Hillbillies.

Croker has subsequently been a little less productive but has recorded some great albums in Europe – one recently re-released with Kevin Coyne. Knopfler knows him best and says “… his marvellous voice; sometimes a howling Blues shout and other times a husky, gentle roll your own …Don’t be deceived by the determinedly uncomplicated Croker … he’s got deep roots…”

This album is never far from my regular playlists and sounds even better now that it did over thirty years ago.

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