Friday, October 21, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 926: Various Artists

I’m right in the middle of a very busy week where I have nine social engagements over five days. They are all fun activities but a bit more hubbub than even I’m used to.

Knowing in advance this would happen I invoked the rarely-used rule that allows me to choose the album I review, so long as it is newly purchased. I picked this one because it is a double album set with over two hours of music and I knew that I would have the time to listen to it and grok it in its fullness. Now that I have, so here it is!

Disc 926 is….Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys
Artist: Various Artists

Year of Release: 2006

What’s up with the Cover? This is a painting by 19th century American artist Howard Pyle, titled “Marooned”. This painting resides in the Delaware Art Gallery. Cool paintings like this make me want to go to Delaware, but I admit there isn’t much else to draw me there, so I’ll probably skip it. Sorry, Howard.

How I Came To Know It: My coworker Chris sent me the song “Cape Cod Girls” by Baby Gramps. I loved it and when I found out it was on an album full of traditional sea chanteys I was very intrigued (I love a good sea chantey). The artist list alone compelled me to seek this out, but it took forever for someone to sell their copy so I could buy it used at the local record store for a good price. Recently, it happened!

How It Stacks Up:  There is second volume in the series called “Son of Rogue’s Gallery” released in 2013 but I don’t have it (yet) so I can’t stack it up.

Ratings: Since this isn’t really a best of, I’m going to rate it and give it 4 stars.

My last tattoo was of a kraken grabbing an anchor (photos below) so while I’m not a sailor it is fair to say I have an affinity for the sea. “Rogue’s Gallery” fed that affinity and then some, filling me with the rich history of the Age of Sail and the sea chanteys that tell the stories of the men that crewed its ships.

The album is appropriately named, with a treasure trove of artists contributing songs. These include big rock stars Sting, Lou Reed and Bono; folk and alternative stars Nick Cave, Lucinda Williams, and Richard Thompson; and a host of other folk artists obscure enough that I didn’t recognize their names. The whole of it is a labour of love by Producer Hal Willner.

The album covers a lot of ground, with over two and a half hours of content and 43 songs. Despite the length, I never got tired of it. Some of the chanteys are delivered very traditionally; others have a rock or alternative edge to them. I wouldn’t have wanted too many of the latter, and the album obliged me, having one appear only once every five or six songs.

I don’t usually research my albums, preferring to take the songs on their own terms, but with something so historically significant I couldn’t help but bury my head in the liner notes (which are excellent) and a few Google searches. Apparently many of these songs would have been sung by sailors while doing their various jobs on the ship. Different rhythms or tempos were used for different jobs. “Rogue’s Gallery” features tack & sheet chanteys, halyard chanteys, pumping chanteys, capstan chanteys, bowline chanteys and even a “stamp and go” chantey. Apparently this latter chantey was on large ships where a group of men would take a line and stamp down the deck, presumably to raise a large sail.

Along the way I learned new sailing slang (yes, I already knew some). I found out that the “Dead Horse” is the 30 days of labour before you are getting paid (since sailors got a 30 day advance when signing on). On the thirtieth day, the crew would celebrate by raising a horse banner and…wait for it…sing a song! “Bully in the alley” means you are too drunk to get back to the ship on your own power. We’ve all been there.

Musically, this record is a revelation. Every song has either a catchy rolling tune, a great story to tell or a bunch of ribald and racy lyrics; some songs have all three.

There are too many favourites to write about them all (see full list below) but I’ll note a few nonetheless.

The album starts with “Cape Cod Girls” by Baby Gramps which is a rollicking track with a gorgeous arrangement of guitar and what I think is a Jew’s harp. The rough and ready sailor’s voice of Baby Gramps is the perfect mood-setter for the record.

Baltimore Whores” and “Good Ship Venus” are two of the dirtiest songs you will ever hear. They are so dirty I won’t even quote the lyrics to you, but I encourage you to Youtube them both.

Bonnie Portmore” by Lucinda Williams is also gorgeous. When I first heard Loreena McKennitt sing this song in 1991 I didn’t think anyone could render a more heartbreaking version. Lucinda Williams plays it very differently, but the hurt and loss of a mighty tree felled to make the hull of a ship comes through just as strong. Great songs are great through many ages and many renditions. This one’s been depressing us since the 18th century.

Shenandoah” is a beautiful instrumental that will set your heart at ease and remove wrinkles from your brow (results may vary). It is beautifully played by Richard Greene and the scatologically named trio “Jack Shit”. Okay, then…

The only song that really irked me was a strange electronica version of “What Do We do With a Drunken Sailor” by David Thomas. It is great to be creative but when the experimentation is so great that the song ceases to be enjoyable you lose me. This version would be at home on the soundtrack to a Rob Zombie horror flick, but felt out of place on this record.

The first disc is better by a good margin, but the second disc has its moments including a beautiful vocal from Jolie Holland on “The Grey Funnel Line” and the aforementioned “Good Ship Venus”.

This record isn’t for everyone but if you like folk music then this will give you a lot of joy, and put some salt in your blood while doing so.

Best tracks (artist): Disc 1 - (12 songs): Cape Cod Girls (Baby Gramps), Mingulay Boat Song (Richard Thompson), My Son John (John C.Reilly), Fire Down Below (Nick Cave), Dead Horse (Robin Holcomb), Turkish Revelry (Loudon Wainwright III), Haul Away Joe (Mark Anthony Thompson), Blood Red Roses (Sting), Baltimore Whores (Gavin Friday), Rolling Sea (Eliza Carthy), Bonnie Portmore (Lucinda Williams), Shenandoah (Richard Greene and Jack Shit),

Disc 2 – (6 songs): Boney was a Warrior (Jack Shit), Good Ship Venus (Loudon Wainwright III), One Spring Morning (Akron/Family), Hanging Johnny (Stan Ridgway), The Grey Funnel Line (Jolie Holland), A Drop of Nelson’s Blood (Jarvis Cocker)

And as promised, here are a couple of tattoo photos to add a little more flavour to this nautically themed blog entry! I don't know how to put them all beside one another so this will have to do. 

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