A sufficient repertoire for any sailing lad
Roger McGuinn grew up minutes from Lake Michigan, and he might have strolled down Navy Pier and admired a P.T. boat or two. But why sailing ships of old should have worked their way into his DNA is a mystery; no square-rigged whaler ever called Chicago its home port. But when McGuinn heard his first sea chantey, probably in 1957 at the Old Town School of Folk Music, it grabbed him and didn’t let go.
On CCD McGuinn gives 23 chanteys the same loving treatment he gave 100 folk songs of various types on the Folk Den Project. In this case the inner panels of an eight-panel CD case tell you the story behind each song, and occasionally what sort of song it was meant to be: a capstan chantey, a halyard chantey, a sheet chantey, and so on.
Those less expert than McGuinn on the subject of sea chanteys— which is to say, almost all of us— will be relieved to discover that they do not all sound alike. When a sailor isn’t hauling in a sheet or weighing an anchor, after all, he’s drinking, chasing women of dubious repute, and spending all his money so that he must go to sea again, where—perhaps best of all— he tells tall tales in the forecastle. All his activities require a suitable song.
There is no bad melody here, and some gorgeous ones, such as “The Handsome Cabin Boy”, which Pentangle fans will remember as “A Maid That’s Deep in Love”. McGuinn, in Folk Den style, keeps his accompaniment for the most part low-key to emphasize the song itself. One happy exception is “Let the Bullgine Run”, with a banjo solo that reminds you that this guy was a master folk musician first, and only later a Byrd.
One special surprise is a song called— Well, I’ll let you guess— that was written by McGuinn. He has so deftly recreated the language, rhythm, and melody of the antique sea chantey that if you can tell it from the real thing, you’re a better man than I, Johnny, a better man than I.
This is not McGuinn’s first collection of sea chanteys, but The Sea, on the MP3.com label, was a rough warmup for this one. For one thing, those MP3.com CDs were not true CD quality (since artists submitted their songs in MP3 format); this one emphatically is. For another, CCD is more than twice the length of The Sea.
I’ll bet you that McGuinn has enough material to double it again.