26 May 2011 0 Comments

Shanty News: Why you should respect new shanty recordings

Shanty News: Why you should respect new shanty recordings


OK, I know who you are. You’re a folk musician who takes folk music a little too seriously but you don’t let everyone know that. You try and maintain a colourful and bright disposition because that is who you are, but you take your folk music VERY seriously.

And why not? Why not take the one thing seriously that truly matters on a global scale? A person’s expression through music, simplified and cut back to just the person and their music nothing more, nothing less. Gorgeous.

We here at ShantyNet.com generally follow the same principle, folk for folk’s sake and nothing more. The magic of the music itself will preserve it through the ages, for future generation to enjoy and past generations to feel proud of.

However. There are always going to be new people taking a look at something we all hold dear: our tradition. The most recent and obvious example is the ‘Rogues Gallery’ Double Album released by Anti Records (Dist. Epitaph). If you have heard of this and not heard the music you will have no doubt realised this is the project of Johnny Depp and producer Hal Willner that arose from Mr Depp’s research into traditional maritime music from his performances in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie triolgy.

Now the sceptic in you will say “I don’t need Johnny Depp to tell me how awesome maritime music is”, and you would be right. You could also scan through the track listing and say: “all these pseudo celebrities will no doubt present these shanties in a way which will enhance their own egoes and diminish the song itself”.

In this case you would also be right.

However, some of these interpretations are really worth listening to.

If you read the liner notes of this album you will find that the producer had arsed around for the longest time, presumably wasting away the record companies cash as he dithered and failed to get a solid cast on the record. Eventually he got some quite big names to put their weight behind the record, including Bono, Nick Cave, Sting and the guy from all those Will Ferrel movies who isn’t the main guy but is pretty close who has frizzy hair (John C Reilly). Wierd.

The result is that you get a double CD of a mixture of quite awful renditions of your favourites and some truly stunning pieces.

I’ll start with the positive:

The standout of the the double album would have to be Jolie Holland’s “Grey Funnel Line”. Her interpretation of Cyril Tawney’s Clasic gives it a melancholy undertow which emphasises the song it’s true meaning, coupled with Holland’s uplifting vocal style which transports you to the paradise the song offers. I remember driving along the motorway a few years back just listening to that song over and over. It’s powerful.

From the upbeat numbers you cannot go past Loudon Wainwright III’s ‘Turkish Revelry’ and ‘Good Ship Veuns’. He is famous for a reason, his voice is something to behold and is worth listening to repeatedly. It must be noted however, that the good ship venus version is probably the most offensive you have heard.

Guess who is awesome at singing shanties? Sting. That’s right, the lame guy from the ‘Police’ who made a career from ripping off black melodies and singing style and selling it back to the whites at a premium. His Blood Red Roses is awesome, even if the key change is obviously way too high for him half way through the song. And his Shallow Brown is amazing as long as you forget that sentimentality was shunned on an actual sailing ship.

Look, at this point I feel I need to disclaim the following: Folk music and in particular shanty music isn’t popular generally. And unless there is some 1960’s revival of traditional/revivalist music it may not ever be popular again. So in essense we should be quite impressed that these big names are lending their hand to our small corner of the musical world. That is, unless, they are complete shit.

This is the case with Bono from U2. We all like at least one U2 song, they are one of the most successful groups in modern music, there are no denying these facts, but can he sing a shanty without trying oh so hard to be relevant and emotional. No, he can’t. He’s not even close.

He’s shit, there is no other way to describe it. I have owned this double album for at least 4 years now and I still can honestly say I have only listend to Bono’s ” A dying salior to his shipmates” all the way through twice. And once was last night where someone wanted to hear it for ironic value.

So, how should us folkies respond to such a project? My answer is simple: the same way that we respond to all other folk recordings and performances. There will be some songs you like and others you won’t, and that is perfectly acceptable. Projects like “the Rogues Gallery” should be taken seriously by us folkies because of the simple reason that they are adding to the wealth and history of the tradition just as we all are in our own small way.

Link to listen to samples and purchase from amazon.com;


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