The Pyrates Royale,
Lyve Behind Bars
(Pubduck, 1998)

A lot of bands who've cut their teeth and honed their craft on the Renaissance faire circuit have decided to put their popular songs and revelry on an album. Often, we wish they wouldn't -- what sounds grand sung lustily at the close of a faire day often sounds flat and uninspired on a recording. Happily, that's not the case with Lyve Behind Bars, a fun-filled, rum-soaked release from the Maryland Renaissance Faire's Pyrates Royale.

This isn't a polished studio production by any stretch. And who'd want it to be? They're pirates, for pity's sake, so a bit of rough-and-tumble is to be expected. Desired, even. And the Pyrates Royale deliver. There are a few wrong notes and false starts scattered throughout the album's 18 tracks, but no one -- including a live and lively audience at the Royal Mile in Wheaton, Md., where most of Lyve Behind Bars was recorded -- seems to mind. I sure don't -- this album has been on repeat mode since I first started listening.

As should be expected, the album is devoted almost entirely to songs of sailing and piracy, as well as related subjects like drinking and womanizing. And this sextet of performers gives them their due.

The group, singers all, has adopted pirate personae, presumably for faire purposes, which adds luster to the production. They are: Brad Howard, a.k.a. Captain Fletcher Tyberius Moone, kazoo specialist and principle bastard; Lynn Cunningham-Ingram, a.k.a. Bonney Peg Riley, bosun, bodhraneer, cocktails, men's tails and floatation devices; Darcy Nair Bond, a.k.a. Katherine Ullyses "Kat" Fairbanks, navigator, octave mandolinist, hammered dulcimer and concertina masher; Craig Williams, a.k.a. John "Long John" Skivee, first mate, guitarist, string breaker, bodhraneer and ice pick; Damon "the" Hersh, a.k.a. Louise "the" Moor, helmsman, Spanish exchange pyrate, silken undies; and Jennifer "le" Bell, a.k.a. FiFi "le" Bonbon, purser, attack fiddler, winer, duster. By album's end, you'll have a good feel for each one's style and personality.

After a quick fiddle run through the well-known "Sailor's Hornpipe," the band begins its musical voyage with a song about shore leave, "Donkey Riding," which cycles through the band so everyone gets a chance to meet the audience. They slow down a bit for "Fiddler's Green," a song about the sailors' afterlife which sounds about perfect for wrapping a hand around an overflowing mug and an arm around a good mate for a good barroom sing-along. Then stand back for a grunt-filled rendition (actually, two renditions) of "South Australia," then the wistful sailor song "Strike the Bell" and the woman-in-pirate's-clothing "Santianno."

"Don't Sail There" is another band original, based on "Jack of All Trades" and adapted for personal use by Bell, which tears down poor Skivee's reputation while limiting the pirate crew's list of possible ports. "Working Girls" is a traditional song of misadventures and, well, you probably can guess by the title. The cheerful seafaring "Away, Rio" leads into the album's only all-instrumental track, "Staten Island/Red-Haired Boy," featuring Bond on hammered dulcimer and Bell on fiddle.

"The Old Dun Cow," about a terrible fire which destroyed a pub and would have destroyed the alcohol, too, if not for the quick thinking of a handful of patrons, is particularly fun. The vocal rhythm section adds flavor, as does a brief excursion into "Fiddler on the Roof" territory in the middle. The ballad "Bold Reilly," slower than most of the tunes on this album, features some excellent vocal harmonies on the chorus. Too slow? The exuberant "Whiskey Oh" will wake you up, both for the lusty singing and the interesting verse selections of the singers. Sticking to that oh-so-appropriate theme, the band merges straight into "Stumble," an original, self-deprecating variation on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" (OK, so the only similarity is the melody), and the heartfelt homage "Beer, Beer, Beer."

Following the traditional "The Grand Pubs of Yorkshire," guest vocalist Tim Shaw leads the band through a snap-happy "Pay Me My Money Down," an ode to debtors everywhere, and then they launch into a booze-soaked "Drink a Rum," adapted by Bond from a tune of questionable origins, "Smoke Two Joints." The Pyrates Royale wrap up the album with a soulful "Leave Her, Johnny" -- but, unwilling I suppose to end on a melancholy note, they duck back in for a quick rendition of "Have a Nagilla," if they can figure out what a "nagilla" is....

If you weren't paying attention to the various titles and themes listed above, let me sum up: This isn't the kind of album you should listen to with a cup of tea in your hand. The singing is great, the presentation is awesome and the package is a hell of a lot of fun. I suspect it's even better heard live, but lacking that experience, this is a great substitute.

[ by Tom Knapp ]




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