Great Big Sea

Safe Upon the Shore album review!

RIGHT THEN! userinfospazzkat texted me when I was on my way home this evening to alert me that the desperately awaited Safe Upon the Shore had finally arrived in the mail. It should surprise none of you that I ripped that envelope open as soon as I kicked off my shoes and changed clothes and got some dinner in me! And I slapped the disc into the actual stereo with actual speakers, not just the penny-ante little speakers on my laptop. ‘Cause if I’m going to listen to a shiny new GBS album for the first time, I’m going to listen to it right.

My review, overall? Um. Fair warning that if you didn’t care for Fortune’s Favour, you probably won’t care for this album either. There’s a lot of the same feel to its production and mixing, in that it feels slicker than older GBS albums have done, and the B’ys are experimenting with vocal styles and types of songs they haven’t historically played with. Which is awesome if you’re a band that’s had ten CDs and you need to mix stuff up a bit to keep it fresh–but if you’re a long-time fan who signed on for the tasty, tasty trad, this takes quite a bit of getting used to.

That said, there are so far two confirmed tracks I’ll be coming back to in regular rotation, “Nothing But a Song” and “Safe Upon the Shore”. There are four others that are potential repeat plays. This is about the same for me as Fortune’s Favour, which gave me ultimately only five songs I regularly go back and replay on the Favorites playlist. And both of these are pretty low overall for GBS albums for me. I’ll have to see how my opinion changes as I play through the album a few more times!

Track-by-track reactions behind the cut.

“Long Life (Where Did You Go)”: Well, they’ll be doing this one live, I’m sure. Strong Séan opener for the album; not sure if it’s clicking for me personally yet. Séan sounds a bit rough around the edges. And they miked the hell out of the bodhran, which was a bit startling, and when the bodhran in a GBS song sounds too heavily miked, you KNOW it’s a heavy bodhran!

“Nothing But a Song”: I recognize this one from previous live shows, and especially the bridge with the awesome sustained harmony. So far one of my faves for the album and a definite repeat play.

“Yankee Sailor”: Lovely ditty, this time Alan sounding a bit rough and wistful. Nice, though. Possibly will be included in the live rotation, but I dunno, it’s kind of low-key for a live GBS show. Potential repeat play.

“Good People”: HA yeah I remember this one from Bremerton, too. This was the one the B’ys kept riffing off of at that show last year, and of which jokes about good pizza got made! Still a bit country-ish and twangy for my true liking though.

“Dear Home Town”: Back to Alan singing lead but wait what there are horns here! That’s new! Definitely part of what they picked up doing this album in New Orleans, I’m sure. Alan gets some nice deep singing further in but isn’t really exercising his range.

“Over the Hills”: Why HELLO THERE, Bob! This is the obligatory Bob Gets to Sing Lead quota for the album, clearly. 😉 The album credits say he wrote this ‘un, too, based off “Traditional”. Wonder what song he played with to built this. This requires looking up. Not enough of the B’ys in full harmony on this, though it’s always good to hear Bob taking the lead. So far though this is closest thing to something trad-flavored on the album… ooh hey, there’s a jig on the outro! Nice. That must be where Bob brought in the pipes he’s credited as playing–out of NINE DIFFERENT INSTRUMENTS. Mr. Hallett is still, thankfully, playing EVERYTHING.

This is another potential repeat play just for being 1) sung by Bob, and 2) remotely in the neighborhood of trad.

“Hit the Ground and Run”: Here’s the ditty that Alan wrote with Russell, which doesn’t surprise me, since it’s got an overall similar feel to “Company of Fools” off the previous album. Not sure actually if I like it yet, though! Again, a bit too twangy for me to really groove on, especially with banjos coming in on the bridge, though I must admit that’s some pretty awesome banjo. I hear backup vocals in there too but again, they’re strangely subdued for a GBS album. Where are my B’ys in full-throated harmony?

“Safe Upon the Shore”: Oh, that would be HERE then! This is hands down my favorite track on the album so far, pure a capella Séan, getting some nice pure higher notes. And oh god yes the harmony on the chorus. THIS is what I buy these B’ys’ albums for! <3 Very neat too that this song has a trad feel, but is actually written by Séan and Murray. I'm betting this'll probably show up in live rotation, too, just because we have to have us some Shantyman goodness in ANY show. (Interjection from userinfosolarbird as The McCann is warbling about corpses: “BRAINS!” *sporfle*)

A little bummed though that it ends only on Séan on a wistful note, but on the other hand, that seems appropriate for the song.

“Have a Cuppa Tea”: Alan, dude, you really are in a country mood for this album, aren’t you? But hey, okay, a song about the virtues of tea doesn’t suck. And oh hey Séan takes over for some lead too, nice. NOT a GBS-penned song, I note; seems to be a cover of a ditty by the Kinks. Not sure at all that it works for me as a GBS ditty though.

“Wandering Ways”: Oh wait hey I already know this song! This one showed up as an iTunes EP when the last album came out. Sounds like the exact same take, too, though I’ll have to play them back to back to be sure. Séan in definite salty mode, here. Don’t know if I’ll come back to this regularly; I didn’t when I got it before, so.

“Follow Me Back”: This is a nice sweet little ditty, although I have to admit that I had a bit of a doubletake reaction along the lines of “wait wait there’s a GIRL singing on this song?” Which there is: Jeen O’Brien, who also showed up on Fortune’s Favour. Interesting to note that Jeremy Fisher and Jeen both helped Bob write this, though I’m genuinely flummoxed as to whether the B’y singing with Jean here is also Bob. He’s singing low enough that it’s hard to tell!

This is another potential repeat just because it’s one of the few songs on the album that doesn’t sound over-produced to me. It’s just two voices and a guitar, and I like that. The album credits say in fact that nobody produced it, since it was done in one take on the back of a basement couch. That alone gives it nice contrast to the other tracks.

“Road to Ruin”: Okay, they’re TOTALLY going to do this one live, there’s just too much roaring out the chorus for them to not to! And so far this is the closest thing to a traditional GBS-style foot-stomper on the whole album. Another potential repeat, but will have to take a few more swings through it to be sure. May be a bit too close to “Straight to Hell” for me in flavor, though.

“Gallows Pole”: This is the other track on this album I was already familiar with, since it was handed out by as an extra track for people who pre-ordered Fortune’s Favour. Also, Séan’s been doing this one live, so it’s a known quantity now. I think I definitely like him doing it live better, he tears through it a lot better on the stage. And now that I know that this is a Zeppelin cover, it makes a lot more sense to me, but it still doesn’t really parse to me as a GBS song.

“Don’t Wanna Go Home”: More twang, more Alan drawling out lyrics more than is normal for him. Here are the horns again, clearly picked up from recording in New Orleans, and I do like those, although I’m not sure the song as a whole is working for me.

I’m sure we’ll be getting this as a concert ditty, too. And you can tell I’ve been a GBS fan for a while when I can peg not only which songs on a new album they’ll have in the live rotation, but whereabouts in the show they’ll probably show up. My money’s on this one as an encore.

Your thoughts, my fellow GBS fans?

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