Various Artists

Sea Songs and Shanties [Topic]

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This album was one of a series of samplers this label compiled by sailing into its bay of releases and pulling out a track here and there. On the topic (no pun intended) of sea songs and shanties, there are at least a dozen releases in the catalog that were appropriate to select from, including albums by artists such as A.L. Lloyd and Stan Kelly. There are perceivably listeners who would be interested in this genre without wanting to invest in entire albums by particular artists, and from this point-of-view this album will be considered a winner. A point could be made that this is the type of music that is more satisfying, and more interesting to listen to, when it is presented in compilation form. The only letdown would be if the project were put together in a haphazard way, but there is no danger of that here. The producers and editors at Topic have always shown as firm and steady a hand at sequencing compilations as a first class navigator, and this is no exception. Although no one gets credit for anything involved in this production, from editing to writing the liner notes, it is all done with good taste and a good ear for the blend. Most of the tracks are feature only voices, either solo or in call and response fashion with a chorus. There are several pieces performed with instrumental backup from two wonderful players, the delightful concertina master Alf Edwards and the solid fiddler Dave Swarbrick, whose tone is as pure as the taste of freshly caught fish. "Blood Red Roses," performed by Lloyd, is a mood-setting number that has been chosen before as an opening track on sea shanty albums. It is boisterous, lively as a midday scrub of the decks, and will have the imaginative listeners tasting salt water before it is through, especially the narrow-minded sorts who would rather leap into the ocean than listen to something like this all the way through. The Watersons bring a different touch to "The Plains of Mexico" or "All for Me Grog," although again this is hardly the gussied-up, sterilized type of singing one might have heard in a folk club back in the day. Harry Corbett and his chorus dredge up one of the great warhorses of this tradition, "Blow the Man Down," and create a version that can stand as a challenge to anyone else willing to give the song a try. "Goodbye, Fare Thee Well," performed by Louis Killen, has moments of grand sentiment, closing the album with the deep feelings of a sailor who knows he is finally heading home. The generous selection of 17 different tracks provides a balanced sampling of both work songs and the so-called songs for diversion. For the right kind of audience, the entire project is a grand diversion, yet another example of a travel adventure masquerading as an album.

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