John Roberts & Tony Barrand

Across the Western Ocean

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Originally released on LP in the early '70s, this charming collection of English shanties, forebitters, and recitations was long overdue for reissue when it finally emerged on the Swallowtail label in 2000. Shanties were work songs used by sailors to pass the time and establish a regular rhythm while performing the many repetitive physical tasks required on board, whereas forebitters were songs reserved for leisure time. The songs chosen for this album are meant to be representative of those that would have been heard and sung on the American packet ships that carried people and goods between America and Europe during the mid-1800s, and they include such relatively familiar fare as "Blow the Man Down" and (in a surprisingly bloodless arrangement) "New York Girls," as well as earthier obscurities like the naughty "Crayfish Song" and the drinking song "Get Up Jack John Sit Down." The spoken-word interludes, which include diary entries from ships' captains and passengers, as well as news reports of sinkings and other tragedies, are by turns amusing and harrowing, and may prove distracting to those primarily interested in a musical experience rather than an historical one. Recommended.

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