Friday, January 26, 2007

A very Rogue-ish Gallery of Songs

It would have been easy to dismiss Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys - a reinterpretation of salt water ditties - as an effort to cash in on the huge success of Disney's Pirates of the Carribean. Originated as a concept collection by Pirates director Gore Verbinski, the CD has executive producing credits for both Verbinski and actor Johny Depp.

But as producer Hal Willner explains in the liner notes, the actual production beyond the concept was a separate creative process. First, Willner started by collecting as many chanties as he could by browsing on-line stores. After compiling 400 tunes, he shortlisted them and then went about recruiting a band.


Using a loosely structure recording process, Willner (pic) would invite selected artists to look at the songs and then have them commit their version of the tune. Anti/Epitaph, the sister labels who commissioned the set, have a reputation for artist driven music and this shows in the way Willner first picked solid artists rather than stars and allowed them the room to interpret the tunes they were given (no Hannah Montana on this one).

All of this has resulted in making Rogue's Gallery endearingly raw and rowdy and gives it a crowded barroom type of intimacy. The CDs start off with "Cape Code Girls" by
Baby Gramps, who was clearly put on this earth to create this tune and goes on to feature artists like Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, John C Reilly, Jolie Holland, Bryan Ferry, Bono, Sting, Lou Reed, Andrea Corr and my one of my favorites - Lucinda Williams. (It's a shame Epitabh signings Tom Waits or Neko Case don't feature anywhere)

There are 43 songs in all, 23 on the first disc. A lot of them have the smell of rum and whiskey in them. There is a fiddle-infused, bitter-sweet ode to a sailor at sea by Eliza Carthy. Sting does a lively version of Blood Red Roses. Loudon Wainwright III renders the progressively filthy Good Ship Venus. (This disc doesn't have a Parental Advisory label on it but probably should). Most of these put a smile on my lips that stayed there all day.

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