The Hang of Music – What *Are* You At?

Now here we have something fun; today’s review is of a CANADIAN (for all those canadiophiles out there – you know who you are!) folk band, of whom I have never heard a thing, and of whom I barely even knew what genre they were. I’d never heard a single track of theirs, let alone a whole album; hell, I can feel pretty confident I’d never have even heard of them had not a friend and fellow blogger pointed them out. So, today I get to listen to entirely new music.

Which is awesome.

So let us lend an ear to the one; the only; the CANADIAN Great Big Sea, and their eponymous debut.

Where to begin, on an album, then. At the beginning of course! And thirty seconds in, all I’ve heard is the sound of waves on a tranquil shore… hmmm. I’m pretty sure this isn’t my Calming Sounds Sleep CD, but I’ll just check… Oh, there’s the music! The album starts with a traditional song “Gone by the Board”, which is then medleyed with the title track, Great Big Sea, which is just… the ocean sounds on the beginning of the track. That makes a weird kind of sense.

I suppose I should mention that there are a lot of nautical sounding songs on this album. A lot. Which makes sense, given their name. “But why?” I hear you ask; “CANADA is renowned for its AWESOME mountains ranges, its EPIC wildlife, and its BADASS Mounties. Why would you sing songs about having a rich fishing culture instead?”

Because St John’s is on the Newfoundland coast, East side of Canada. It’s the oldest city in Northern America, and was a major fishing centre up until the 20th century. Geography, bitches!

Fishing; FUCK YEAH!

So, lots of sea shanties. That’s cool by me. I find it weird, though, that even though they are singing old sea shanties, they sound so fresh, the best example being Drunken Sailor. Just flip up to the top and listen to it. Go on, I’ll wait.

What I first noticed, when I listened to that song was that it sounded weird. And good; definitely good. The next thing I noticed was that it was Drunken Sailor; you know, that song that everyone knows. It sounds exactly like the original and entirely different. That’s proof that it’s a good cover version. It could also be proof that it’s a song so heavily ingrained into my brain that I could recognise it even were I the eponymous sailor in the brig, but I preferred my interpretation.

One of the nice things about this album is that, though a lot of the songs themselves are traditional arrangements, they’re sneaky buggers. I couldn’t tell which ones (barring the obvious) were original and which ones weren’t, until I checked wiki. The new ones sound sufficiently old and wise, and the old ones sound sufficiently new and smart. In fact, Let’s Play the “Old or New” game with this tune.

Everyone knows the song enough to sing along; there are guys in the back playing hand held drums and old instruments; there’s a heavy emphasis on strong singing voices; it makes you want to quaff your drink…

If you guessed “Old”, you’d be wrong.

I like folk songs, especially old ones – they’re all two drinks away from sobriety, and one wrong turn away from being protest songs. “Fisherman’s Lament” is a very sad song about the government’s part in the death of the fishing industry, whilst “Someday Soon” speaks sanguinely* of the promises made by one political party or another. It’s very cool in my opinion.

In fact, some of the songs feel downright out of place at times, because sandwiched between those two is “What Are You At?”, a cheery pop song about seeing friendly faces, and comparing local customs. An interesting place to put the song, although to their credit, there’s nowhere on that album the song would fit in. All the rest seem to be Irish-sounding jigs and shanties.

That’s a point – a lot of the instrumentation does sound very Irish. And, come to think of it, so do Bellowhead. Perhaps the Irish have somehow copyrighted folk music… OH MY GOD, THE IRISH ARE CONTROLLING FOLK MUSIC TO KEEP US DRINKING IRISH WHISKEY! It all makes sense now! It’s a good thing I only drink scotch, or their mind control nanobots might get me.

Well, when the Irish Folk Mafia bought Great Big Sea’s souls and instruments, they got a very good deal, I think.

Let us finish by singing the national anthem not to our own nation, but to a nation of peace, of mountains and where Supernatural and Star Wars were shot. Yes, it’s time for…

*This word doesn’t feel right, but it’s what the dictionary told me. Shit.

EDIT – Crap, apparently “Excursion Around The Bay” is an old local song. Thank you, Patrick Rose, for reminding me that wiki, while awesome, can be deceptive. Maybe I should also look more closely into that “Irish Folk Mafia” theory as well.


Posted on June 30, 2011, in Music, The Hang of Music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hey, Bellowhead sing English songs and sound distinctly English. Listen to some Celtic stuff and you’ll hear it.

    Also, Excursion Around The Bay is a Newfie song iirc, I think it’s one of their equivalents to stuff like Rolling Home by John Tams.

    And Great Big Sea sing a great Newfoundland song called Mari Mac. Have a google and you’ll know exactly what they can do.

  2. St. John's, Newfoundland

    by you can’t go wrong with great big sea! =)

  3. Damn, I’m slow to respond. But Mari Mac is pretty awesome. I don’t know about you, but I do like slowly accelerating folk music.

    Aaaand… shit. Yet another factual inaccuracy. It *is* a Newfie one, just not one that’s left uncredited as “Traditional”.

    Hopefully you’ll all see past this GLARING ERROR and keep reading for my sparkling wit and repartee…

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