Tyr’s Day Music Review: Great Big Sea’s Safe Upon the Shore

It’s been a busy year for Great Big Sea. Sean McCann released his solo disc Lullabies for Bloodshot Eyes, Alan Doyle was Allan A’Dayle in the mediocre film Robin Hood, and now the band has put out its 9th studio album (not including their two compilation albums) Safe Upon the Shore.

Fortune’s Favour, their last effort, was a major disappointment because of electric guitars leading the band in an unfavourable direction away from their traditional-Newfoundland-folk. Safe Upon the Shore begins with Sean’s bodhran drum driven “Long Life (Where Did You Go)”, which sounded like a return to form until the electric guitar appeared for the chorus and later stole a solo. Aw crap, I thought. Not again. It wasn’t a bad song (written with the help of Canadian gem Joel Plaskett), but not what I wanted from Great Big Sea. I’m difficult to please once I have a conception of what a band should be. I want innovations…as long as nothing changes.

Fortunately, the rest of Safe Upon the Shore drops the electric touch. Alan’s “Nothing But a Song” is the (obvious) first single with its “Something Beautiful” feel. The video (a free bonus on iTunes if you’re Canadian) features Alan’s Robin Hood beard on a trip to the Cayman Islands. “Yankee Sailor” (again with Plaskett on the credits) is what Great Big Sea does best: a traditional-inspired blend of Alan’s rich vocals, Sean’s bodhran, and Bob Hallett’s tin whistle.

Because I’ve already name-dropped Plaskett twice (parenthetically), I should mention that the lads had help with almost every song on the album. For example, Alan wrote “Hit the Ground and Run” with his good friend Russell Crowe: famous for his 2005 album My Hand, My Heart…[cough]. Despite the collaboration, Safe Upon the Shore still sounds more like Great Big Sea than Fortune’s Favour did.

After the corny “Good People” (with a message more effectively conveyed in some of the traditional stories on The Hard and the Easy), Randy Bachman helps out with the harmonica and trombone laden “Dear Home Town”. It’s a relatable tune for anyone who has badmouthed their hometown but later realised its value: “Dear hometown, I didn’t mean to let you down when I sold my soul for a song”.

Bob, Great Big Sea’s musical jack-of-all-trades, puts down his whistle / bouzouki / mandolin / accordion / fiddle / pipes / concertina / banjo to write two tracks—the second of which, the lovely “Follow Me Back”, was recorded in one take with Jeen O’Brien and Jeremy Fischer.

Other highlights on the album are the very Irish “Wandering Ways”, the acapella “Safe Upon the Shore”, and the covers of “Have a Cuppa Tea” and “Gallows Pole”. And the last pop (Feist-ish) track “Don’t Wanna Go Home” is joyously uplifting. Huh…I like this album more than I thought!

Safe Upon the Shore is a good album, but don’t expect the wonder of Up and Play. If you’re not already GBS obsessed, try out their live Road Rage—that album captures exactly what Great Big Sea are all about (or should be).

Buy on iTunes:

Road Rage

Safe Upon the Shore: “Nothing But a Song”, “Have a Cuppa Tea”, “Wandering Ways”, “Don’t Wanna Go Home”

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About writewithlightning

I'm a published Canadian poet and fiction writer, posting haiku daily @writelightning on most social media sites. Please like and comment so that I know you're reading. It means a lot to me! View all posts by writewithlightning

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