Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CD Odyssey Disc 67: Figgy Duff

The Odyssey now returns to the heart of Newfoundland folk music. If you're following along you know I had a bit of a thing for this stuff in the early nineties.

Disc 67 is...Weather Out The Storm

Artist: Figgy Duff

Year of Release: 1990

How I Came To Know It: I heard the song "Woman of Labrador" on Country Music Television (CMT) in around 1993. I went to go buy the album, but the only Figgy Duff album they had was ""Downstream". So I bought "Downstream". It was OK, but I really wanted that song "Woman of Labrador" so I kept going back until it this album was finally in stock.

How It Stacks Up: Figgy Duff has four studio albums over a 13 year span - I've got two. If you're reading comprehension hasn't failed you, you know which two. Anyway, "Weather Out the Storm" is definitely my favourite.

Rating: 2 stars with a thumbs up

Figgy Duff is a folk band from Newfoundland. I seem to recall my friend Tony telling me that a "figgy duff" is a kind of pudding. I think that's what he said, and if I've got it wrong, well - then there oughta be a pudding called that. The world needs more pudding.

Whatever Figgy Duff means, they only have four albums. They weren't that prolific to begin with, and were prematurely disbanded by the tragic death of one of their main creative forces, Noel Dinn - who succumbed to cancer shortly after 1993's "Downstream".

I don't know if it is just that I have their two later albums or not, but Figgy Duff gets a little too into a new age, synth-pop kind of sound. This is particularly noticeable on tracks like "Weather Out the Storm" and "Heart of a Gypsy" which lead off this album. Both songs have strong fundamentals and would really benefit from being stripped down to more traditional folk arrangements. Still, you can't blame a band for experimenting - Capercaillie does it very well. It's just that not every band is as good as Capercaillie.

The tracks on this album that are stripped down are really quite good. In particular, "Woman of Labrador" is a solid 4 star song about the hard life of pioneering women in Labrador, who tended the house for weeks while their husbands worked the trapping line. The song ends with a bitter lament of a simple way of life lost:

"Daughter of Labrador
Those days are here no more
Wonder if your baby will ever understand
The hardships that you endured
When everyone you knew was poor
Sharing everything you had
And living off the land."

I'm also a big fan of "Yankee Skipper" which is a funny little sea shanty about a local woman who decides to accept the advances of a visiting Yankee skipper by the name of "Peter Nelson". She goes on his boat and as the song says "Whatever the captain asked of her/the maid she never grumbled."

In between each semi-bawdy verse we have some excellent fiddle reels. I love that sound of an east coast fiddle played well...

Anyway, spoiler alert! The story ends thusly:

"For sleeping with the yankee chap
Her own true love she lost him
But she got herself a fine pair of boots
Cost five dollars in Boston."

Not knowing what her boyfriend was like, or what boots were worth when it was written, it's hard to say if this was a fair exchange or otherwise.

The album ends with a murderous ballad about a man who chooses to go privateering to support his brothers. The song is called "Henry Martin". I'm not sure if it is my imagination, but it seems a lot of the time when a song is titled a man's full name, someone gets killed. I'll have to look for that ahead on the waves of the CD Odyssey.

Of note - all my four favourites on this album are traditional folk songs, arranged by Figgy Duff, which is fine for what it is, but sadly doesn't speak strongly to Figgy Duff''s own stuff holding its own. Thus I give 2 stars, where I might've been generous on another day and given 3.

To sum up: Do you really like Newfoundland folk music with a hint of new age production? This may be the album for you - both of you! The three of us can listen to it occasionally.

Best tracks: Woman of Labrador, Yankee Skipper, Rumbolt

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should get their earlier albums. Sadly, at least one of them is out of print, but I have it somewhere... I didn't particularly case much for this record either, and I'm from there, and have met them.