Review from Cornstalk Gazette – March 2009
Life of Brine
The Roaring Forties RF042CD
The Roaring Forties – Don Brian, Robin Connaughton, Tom Hanson, Margaret Walters and John Warner – are one of Australia’s best-known acappella singing groups and specialise in rousing chorus songs and sea shanties. Their new CD will not disappoint shanty fans but their choice of material takes the Forties in different directions too. There are songs from the USA, West Indies and Britain but there’s also a focus on material written or arranged by Australians or with Australian themes. The listener is taken well beyond those favourite old sea shanties you’ve heard before.
There are traditional ‘forebitters’, songs of sailing life seamen would sing at the ship’s bow when not sweating on capstans or halyards – and recent songs of the sea include Merv Lilley’s Bound for Darling Harbour and two of Harry Robertson’s including my favourite Ballina Whalers – “hey ho you trawler men, come on/ forget your snapper and your prawns”.
Settings of nautical poems by early 20th century English poet Cicely Fox Smith are a feature with A Channel Rhyme enhanced by a great tune and stirring chorus by John Warner. John’s own song Batavia reminds us he’s one of Australia’s best songwriters.
If you’re not really into sea songs but just love harmony singing there’s a lot here for you too. The last track Seamen’s Hymn, written by the legendary Bert Lloyd, allows the Forties to end the CD with beautiful close harmony singing but listen to what they do on the way through with the choruses, especially for A Channel Rhyme and Davy Lowston.
So I really enjoyed this CD – well chosen material, well sung and arranged and very well recorded. It has a fresh and immediate sound and there’s not too much of the studio reverb which sometimes makes acappella singers sound as though they’re in a big barn. None of that here – you can play this softly and enjoy the blend of five good voices or turn it up full tilt and imagine you’re toiling at the capstan.
Life of Brine – Seas Shanties and Forebitters
The Roaring Forties
This CD is a great CD – buy it and love it!
That about sums up what I’d like to communicate about The Roaring Forties’ latest CD. After all, I’m no expert on Australian sea-shanty singing or sea-shanty singing from any place at all. However, I am a keen listener of voices in harmony, especially those who are singing about work and life (as opposed to the doo-wop kind of harmony singing).
These sea-shanties sparkle. The ensemble of four bearded men and one fair maid ought to sparkle – they have been singing sea-shanties together for a very long time and they sing with knowledge of passion for their subject. For those unfamiliar with the sea-shanty “scene”, it is alive and a-blowin’ in Sydney as a number of regulars gather on the James Craig at Darling Harbour to join in hearty renditions of these songs. Incidentally, the sessions are open to anyone. Beard optional.
The production on this cd is superb. The sound you get is a great ensemble sound which is greater than the sum of its salt-whipped parts. Beautifully balanced without being over-slick. I like to play the cd in the car – loud and with the windows down. How it annoys the young people.
About half the songs are from the Australian tradition – the rest are from other English speaking shanty traditions. You don’t have to know a thing about the tradition to enjoy the cd. There are brief and informative notes about each song to be perused once you have recovered from laughing at the excellent CD title.
Historically, singing has held a special role in easing the burden of work. That these shanties have survived and are being recorded and passed on makes our contemporary lives richer and more knowledgeable about our past.
You’ll love it! Buy it!