Review: Kings of the Sea

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Skeleton Crew Pirate Band
www.malloryandmccall.com

Genre: Traditional-styled sea and pirate shanteys, but with some deviation and unique character
Rating: PG
Target Audience: All Ages

The problem with period music is it sometimes leans towards the dry side. And while non-period music is often more fun, it generally clashes with any sort of authenticity (a problem at times, certainly.) But with their new album “Kings of the Sea,” The Skeleton Crew Pirate Band manages to straddle that difficult line and create an album that’s fun to listen to, while still lending itself to a period feel. I use the words “period feel” carefully, as not all of these songs are actually authentic. Many, in fact, are culled from a wide variety of movie favorites – Muppet Treasure Island, The Pirates of Penzance, Treasure Island, and Pirates of the Caribbean all lend tunes and lyrics to this album. But while the sources may be modern, the vocals and instruments throughout carry a traditional piratey air, only deviating a bit with some non-traditional vocal styles now and again. And indeed, many of the other songs truly are period (William Kidd, Pirate’s Love Song, and Henry Martin, for example) although they too feature some artistic liscence with styling (and more power to them!)

“Kings of the Sea” is a packed CD, boasting a full 72 minutes of pirate music. And between the aforementioned tracks and sources, coupled with Fishy Mermaid and Bold Fighting Pirates, the lion’s share of the songs are certainly familiar territory for many fans of pirate music. In some cases this might lead to an album of “been there, heard that” types of songs, but The Skeleton Crew has a distinctive character which they inject into each and every song. The vocal styles are fun to the point of being nearly comical (I could easily picture Mallory and Janna McCall doing voices for cartoons or puppets – fitting when you consider that two of this album’s tracks were originally sung by Muppets.) And as to the instrumentals, the band puts to use a brilliant mix of vintage pump organs, accordians, harpsichords, and recorders and whistles that not only work well with the lyrics, but could practically carry an album by themselves.

Regarding the featured tracks, as with most any album there’s a share of winners, a few losers, and even a couple of oddities. Amongst the very best songs are Shiver Me Timbers and Professional Pirate (both from Muppet Treasure Island). They’re each fine interpretations (and complete with a few new lyrics), although Shiver Me Timbers in particular has a little outlandishness that might seem odd if you forget the song’s origin. Also worthy of note are Red Queen, William Kidd (brilliant vocals by Mallory), Bold Fighting Pirates, Derelict, and Down Among the Dead Men (the harpsichord is put to fantastic use on this one.) I was less impressed with some of the more sing-songy tracks, such as Ninety-Eight Not Out and Blood Red Flag. Also lacking were Fireship (a song about dating a pirate chick, which sounds sadly like dinner theater music) and Asleep in the Pirate’s Deep.

Mixed in amongst the good and not-so-good are several songs that are decent but not terribly remarkable, along with a couple of Irish pub tunes and two downright oddities. Hard Tack is a civil war song about that particular food so infamous amongst sailors, and which carries an unfortunate twangy tune. Dirty Ol’ Bird is rather annoying, despite the promise that comes with being a song about a foul-mouthed parrot.

All told, “Kings of the Sea” is a fine album. At times it sounds a bit kid-show, but at others it’s bloody brilliant. And with a full 21 songs, it can afford to have a song here or there that doesn’t ring as true as others. The winners far outweigh the losers, and are well-worth checking out!