Review: Everyone Loves Singing Pirates

Rating: ★★★½☆
The Seadogs
www.seadogs.org

Buy the CD
Genre: Traditional and traditional-styled origninal pirate tunes.
Rating: PG-13
Target Audience: Late teens to early retirement

The Seadogs are very likely the largest pirate band in existence. “Everyone Loves Singing Pirates”, being their second shanty album, and their first actually dedicated to the noble subject of piracy, features the combined efforts of no fewer than 14 artists. Not many pirate bands boast enough manpower to crew a small galleon, but the Seadogs certainly come close.

“Everyone Loves Singing Pirates” is a (mostly) family-friendly CD featuring 16 tracks of traditional and original material – all of it piratey, and of varied quality. With a few exceptions, the Seadogs come across as lackluster when performing traditional or cover songs, but then rise to an entirely new level when playing their own original material. It’s these Seadogs originals that are truly attention-grabbing, and they’re the reason you’ll want to own this CD.

The album begins with Dead Man’s Chest from the novel Treasure Island. Perhaps it’s due to this song’s literary (rather than musical) origins, but I’ve never heard it performed in a way that’s truly bowled me over. The Seadogs’ version is particularly rough, being something of a slow, funerial march. Between the ominous vocals and slow heavy drumbeat it should come across as dark and forboding – and it does. But it’s also a rather flat, and is amongst the bottom three songs on the album, the other two being Bold Princess Royal (way too sing-songy) and Pump Shanty (good lead vocals and drum, but painfully flat backup vocals.)

The Seadogs achieve better results in many of the album’s other covers, although they occasionally miss the mark with regards to tone, as High Barbary and Demon of the Sea seem too friendly and upbeat for their subject matter. Maid on the Shore and Henry Martin are pleasantly more grounded, and quite easy on the ears with crisp vocals and easy-going melodies. Dark Lady and Man o’ War take it up another notch and are more interestingly performed, but sadly suffer from apparent limitations in the recording equipment – elements of the vocals seem slightly garbled in both, while Dark Lady also features a flute that comes across far too prominently for comfort.

By and large, the Seadogs’ versions of traditional and cover songs aren’t entirely noteworthy, but there are a couple stars in the mix. Shiver My Timbers is a fine rendition of a Muppet Treasure Island favorite. They do a great job of making this song their own – no small task considering it was written to be sung by frogs, bugs, easter-island heads, and other various puppets. Rollickin’ Randy Dandy O also stands tall, with prominent lead female vocals sung with a will. The singer has some pipes on her, and she’s not afraid to use them. Drums and backup vocals do an excellent job of rounding this song out to a definite thing of beauty.

So we’ve addressed what’s been good and what’s been not-so-good – now let’s talk about what’s exceptional. I’m sure it’s no coincidence, but the Seadogs’ truly shine when performing their own original content. Not only is it a treat to hear something unique, but the band as a whole seems to rise to the occasion in a way that’s largely absent during most of the traditional pieces. What Care We? is the first of these songs, and is a jolly folk-style bit about how much life would suck not being a pirate, and how other careers are so lacking. A surprisingly friendly sounding song featuring lyrics of the delights of pain and bloodshed. This contrast between tone and content isn’t quite utilized to its full comedic potential (a shortcoming that’s likely remedied when performed live – this song begs for physical embellishment,) but it remains an enjoyable tune with amusing lyrics. Letter O’ Marque propels us to the next level though, being an enthusiastic tribute to Sir Francis Drake that’s both energizing and catchy. The lead vocals are strong and salty, and the backup vocals and instruments measure up perfectly to make for a consistently good piece. Whip or Stroke and Crew of Jones share this same quality and energy, but add an extra dose of sinister, just to keep it interesting.

While we’re on the subject of sinister, Lured to the Depths is the queen beast of such. This song features a trio of mermaids singing out of both sides of their mouths as verses flip between friendly and devilish – some to welcome, entice, and seduce, others to ensnare and consume. Sailors be warned, these ‘maids will delight in your destruction, and the playful wiles in their “come hither” lyrics contrast wonderfully with the shameless glee they exhibit when singing of sailors’ destruction. It does feature some adult innuendo that might offend the puritans in the audience, but nothing so blatant as to rouse the curiosity of the young’ns.

“Everyone Loves Singing Pirates” is a worthy addition to any pirate music collection. The album can be underwhelming when it comes to traditional sea shanties, but when the Seadogs belt out their original material they more than compensate. During such songs, they truly come into their own to make for a genuinely piratey and worthwhile experience.