16 August 2010 4 Comments

CD REVIEW: Salty Dicks Uncensored Sailor Songs

CD REVIEW: Salty Dicks Uncensored Sailor Songs

Review of Salty Dicks Uncensored Sailor Songs

Artist: Salty Dick

Released by Old Fashioned Music (c) 2004

Can be purchased here: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/saltydick

Official website: http://www.saltydick.com/

Censorship in folk music has long intrigued me, it seems that many people endlessly strive to make their performance as close to the original as possible to try and preserve the spirit and history of that time. However, it seems that when it comes to recording the songs in writing or on CD artists/folk historians  seem to draw the line at certain material, specifically to do with sex or swearing. I guess this is understandable given that folk music tends to be a family or at least wholesome affair. I remember when we were asked to do a performance at a sea song night at a local folk club the compere told us that we could sing all the raunchy songs that we liked but “If I hear the ‘f’ word, I’ll punch your lights out”. I don’t particularly mind that attitude I suppose, but it does seem at odds with the purist mentality that you occasionally come across. One example of this is Paddy Doyle’s Boots on The Shanty Crew‘s “Where am I to go m’Johnny”. They make no apologies for changing Stan Hugill’s original words from “we’ll all throw muck at the cook” to “we’ll all throw shit at the cook” (see full lyrics here: http://www.shantynet.com/lyrics/paddy-doyles-boots/), but seem almost militant at any other changing of the words or spirit of any other of the great man’s work. Even Oscar Brand, in his Bawdy Briny Ballads: Oscar Brand Sings Sea Porn album, he seems to have heavily censored his lyrics to make them acceptable to potential listeners.

A little disclaimer: I am aware that many of the ‘dirty’ shanties I am referring to are just dirty versions of well known shanties and may not be the originals anyway, but this surely is not always the case.

So, that aside, I was very interested to pick up Salty Dick’s Uncensored Sailor Songs to see how close to the original he was willing or able to go. Also, to see the types of swear words used back in the sailing time and how they compare to todays curses.

First of all, this CD is hilarious in the extreme. All the intellectual bull crap above went out the window as soon as I played the first song, as a non folkie friend of mine said “You just don’t expect to hear these sorts of things in songs”, and it’s true: you don’t and the surprise and shock makes it even more enjoyable.  One thing that surprised me even more is that the songs aren’t dirty for dirty’s sake, some of them are great folk songs in their own right, especially track 5 “Priests and Nuns“, track 12 “The Crabfish“, and 15 “Christopher Colombo“. They have great lively tunes, wonderful hearty choruses and an engaging narrative, (just not a narrative that you want your wife to catch you reciting absentmindedly as you do the dishes).

One extra note: I accidentally left this playing in my car while it went for a warrant of fitness check at the inspection station, the inspector gave me an accusing look as he handed me the results sheet: he had failed me on everything imaginable from a non-standard fuel cap to front lights being out of focus.

Having said that, this is definitely NOT a CD for kids. It is more sexually explicit than any rap CD you’ll come across, and the swearing is incessant. If you are offended by the “c” word, then this is not the CD for you or anyone you know. Track 14 “A Matlow Told Me ” is especially gruesome and outrageously sexist to boot. I once heard a comedian say that offensive or dirty jokes are only tolerable by the audience if they are funny, i.e. if you laugh at it you wont be offended by it and likewise if the joke isn’t funny you will likely murmur self righteously to the person next to you that this is disgusting rubbish. I think the same applies here, if it is a good song you are less likely to be offended by the lyrical content. “A Matlow Told Me ” is the one song on the album that doesn’t seem to come off in that respect.

Overall, I love this record for the reasons I love my other favourite  folk records. It presents old songs that I would not have otherwise heard of in an interesting and enjoyable way, it is recorded with a lot of enjoyment from the artist and is great fun to listen to. Musically it is a little uninspired, there is usually just one backing instrument played as accompaniment/background to the main show which are the lyrics.  However, I would absolutely recommend it to those who are not that easily offended.

Finally, it has left me with two questions which both leave me uneasy in their own way:

  1. Where would there ever be an appropriate place to perform these songs?
  2. If a mermaid’s bottom half is one big fish, how does a whole crew of sailors have sex with her?

4 Responses to “CD REVIEW: Salty Dicks Uncensored Sailor Songs”

  1. Richard Docker, P.H.D. 7 November 2010 at 3:34 am #

    I want to thank you for the excellent review — you have sussed the true essence of this effort: it is folk music, plain and simple. So many listeners think it’s prurient and venal because of the authentic language. But if you really understand what sailors went through, and how they would have responded to the conditions under which they labored, then you will appreciate — as you have — the nature of these small works of art.

    As for your questions, I’ll take them in order.

    A. I have found the best place to perform these songs is late at night at a folk music gathering (around a campfire is ideal), with bottles of rum or whisky at hand. Those who remain at said gathering after, say, midnight, are the target audience.

    B. Think clearly, my friend: merfolk clearly do reproduce, so there must be an orifice in the female of the species to allow for the ingress of the sperm and the birthing of the offspring. Though I have no direct knowledge of such creatures, I would guess that a horny sailor would follow his nose to the right spot (otherwise, why are there so many references to the perfume of a woman being of a fishy nature? Remember the Bearded Clam, and the Fish Taco of legend).

    All success to you in your endeavors.

    Richard “Salty Dick” Docker

  2. Richard Docker, P.H.D. 7 November 2010 at 3:36 am #

    One last thing. I noted the irony of the advert on your website as I typed my previous comment: it was for a DVD of “The Sound of Music”. Brilliant timing, I must say.


  3. stefan 8 November 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    Welcome Salty Dick to Shantynet, glad you liked the review.

    It’s a genuine buzz to get the actual artist comment on the review of his own CD.

    Interested to see you graduated from Pudendalia Univeristy with a doctorate no-less! I’ve also spent much time at that valued institution, but I turned my nose up at Scatology after a couple of brief lessons. It’s not for everybody I suppose…

  4. Abby Sale 21 February 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    Good comments. I’ve enjoyed this fine CD since it stunned the market.

    It’s been obvious that sailors, like lumbermen, soldiers, cowboys, etc. simply did not sing only about their longing to get back to town so they could enjoy a tea party at a church social. I’m sure they sometimes had other things in mind. But finding legitimate, authoritative, scholarly addressed assessed source material is nearly impossible in book or CD. It’s sad. Of course there are many ‘under-the-counter’ items but they lack background material, sources or comment. To me, dropping bawdry from our repertoire is as valid as dropping work songs or songs about food – silly. Also, as you write, most of it is very funny and much is good ballad

    Dr Docker’s CD is a pleasure just for that. It’s a great plus that it’s also some of the best singing you’ll find.

    I have sung a number of the songs in public as well as much other bawdy material – judiciously considering the audience, but often enough. I’ve sung at weddings (after the child guests went home), at major folk festivals, at parties at folk-song house parties and especially at local song circles. IN a new crowd I do ask if anyone minds such first, that’s all. Few object. If ANY object, I switch to politics.

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