Not Nashville pretty
Smokin’ release cover blues, country and folk
By Paul Carlucci - The Georgian
A Field By The Sea. It’s a pretty stirring title, invoking, as it does, visions of desolate beaches, wind-swept heather and frothy, undulating waves. Smokin’ Joe Wiseman came up with it while looking seawards from Cape St. George, where his eyes came across the cemetery – a field by the sea if ever there was one.
While not exactly a somber outing, Field does spend some time exploring death. The title track looks into outmigration, lamenting the loss of Newfoundland and Labrador’s young and wondering who will lie with the province’s ancestors in their “marble orchards,” which is another poetic handle for graveyards.
“The image of the graveyard with the limited number of headstones and people leaving town with the mill closing, it all came together,” Wiseman says.
And then there’s the “Ballad of the Blue Puttees,” a melancholy ode to the Newfoundland Regiment and it’s royal ascension in World War I. That ascension came at great cost, as Mr. Wiseman notes during a haunted, spoken bridge of the song: “Only 68 answered roll call on the morning of that fight.”
To Mr. Wiseman, the decimation describes the province’s character neatly.
“Why did that occur, and what does it have to do with the character of Newfoundland?” he asks. “Newfoundlanders wore an insecurity complex on their sleeves. If we were going to hire someone for a job, and they were from somewhere else, that person would be considered better than anyone else.”
He goes on to note the economic straightjacket the province is struggling with, saying much of the current situation is owing to an inferiority complex.
“So what we tend to do is overcompensate. That insecurity drives our determination. That insecurity, to me, was highlighted by the fact that Newfoundlanders were wearing blue puttees. There wasn’t enough green khaki to outfit the troops, so they took blue sail cloth and made the puttees out of that.”
Mr. Wiseman has two ancestors who were killed in the war. A photograph of Harold and Clyde Coish can be seen on the back of the CD, as well as within the insert.
But Field By The Sea isn’t just a catalogue of aching introspection. The album sounds a few upbeat notes, as well. “Cheatin’ Blues,” for example, is a drawling 12-bar telling of a man whose wife has a lesbian affair and doesn’t think it qualifies as betrayal.
“Someone told me a story about that,” Mr. Wiseman says. “I wanted to tongue and cheek it because they’ve reconciled their differences. Today’s morality is very different – we’re open. Conveying that message in a tasteful way: Relationships are complicated.”
Every relationship is bound for conflict, he continues, and the blues is a perfect vehicle for presenting that tension.
Mr. Wiseman had coaching with most of these songs. He’s a member of various online guilds, especially www.
songu.com. Based in Nashville, the online university provides a workshop environment for songwriters. Not only were a lot of his songs coached in that forum, but the musicians who play on the record were sourced out through the university’s rank and file. The boys just passed the material digitally from one studio to another.
But, while having his songs coached helped bring an objective eye to his work, Mr. Wiseman is sometimes leery of the process.
“Like most people, when something you create is being criticized, it’s threatening,” he says. “I write for my voice. Consequently, some of the criticisms I get, I can’t do anything about. The other thing is I don’t necessarily want to say everything the way Nashville people would say it.
“My songs aren’t Nashville pretty; they’re real life gritty.”