21 July 2011 0 Comments

CIvil War Naval Songs : Album Review

CIvil War Naval Songs : Album Review

Album: Civil War Naval Songs
Artist(s): Dan Milner, David Coffin, Jeff Davis and guests.
Released by: Smithsonian Folkways, 2011
Link to purchase and hear song samples: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=3331

I simply love the Folkways label, their catalogue seems to be based on the oldest recordings available and is a collection based on a passion for the music and it shows. You can find some real gems on their site, I myself am getting close to owning their entire sea shanty catalogue and a few besides.

This album is a themed piece based on the (north american) Civil War of the 1860’s, the album notes are detailed and interesting and the songs themselves are genuine from the period. Needless to say, the American civil war was the major engagement in the world in the glory days of sail, some say this period had a definate end with the sinking of the Alabama by the Keasarge in 1864 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSS_Alabama). But it really took another forty to fifty years to die out properly for us in the backwaters of the world.

So, I hear you say: “yes, yes, but are the songs any good? Should I forfeit a piece of my meagre fortune to be able to listen to this more than once?”.

The answer is: probably.

To explain what I mean i’ll describe the album in more detail. For a start, there are no actual shanties on here. These are sea songs/ballads, with the possible exception of #5 Lowlands, but even that is sung in a ballad style and wont satiate your hunger for a rowdy work song. So once you have accepted this you will enjoy this a lot more. Why? Because the songs are strong and thoughtfully put together with traditional style music accompianment, particularly #3 Farragut’s Ball and especially #13 The Monitor and Merrimac (incidentally, I see you can download this for free for a limited time off the folkways site, in my opinion this is the best song on here). #11 The Alabama (not the shanty you are thinking of) is quite arresting in it’s contemplatitive and almost melancholic manner, and is beautifully supported by a lovely piano piece. It always surprises me that a song written 150 years ago about something so remote from my own experience can connect to some base emotion that I amcurrently feeling but I guess that’s why we love trad ay?

Now, if you are put off by the chest beating propaganda that seems to find its way in to almost every traditional folk song that is written about a war, then this may be a probelm for you. But in fairness, this seems to be as strong from both sides of the conflict, and shit, it was ages ago.

Overall do I recommend this? Yes I do. This is a record of many songs that you probably will not have in your collection, the songs are strong and well presented, and finally, you should use any excuse to support the folkways label. They thoroughly deserve it.

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