The Pyrates Royale,
Hello Sailor
(Pubduck Productions, 1997)

My first exposure to the Pyrates Royale was their 1998 live recording, Lyve Behind Bars, so I was curious how different I would find their earlier studio release, Hello Sailor. Although I was unable to make it down to the Royale's stomping grounds at the Maryland Renaissance Faire to find a copy, my friend Julie made the trip for me (and saw the band perform live, damn it!) and brought me a copy of the first CD.

Hello Sailor is an excellent companion album. Although it lacks the dialogue and audience interaction of the later live recording, it focuses on excellent choral arrangements, with some nice bits and bonuses which make for a nice listening experience. The overall feel of the band's performance is the same delightful mayhem as described in the earlier review.

The band consists of Captain Fletcher Tiberious Moone, alias Brad Howard (vocals, principle bastard), Bosum Peg Reilly, alias Lynn Cunningham (vocals, bodhran, handrum, rum), Ship's Counselor Lady Vanity Hornblower, alias Darcy Nair (vocals, bouzouki, hammer dulcimer/kindling), Second Mate Long John Skivvy, alias Craig Williams the Serious (vocals, guitar, bodhran, pennywhistle), Louis the Moor, alias Damon Hersh (vocals, ladies' hearts), FiFi le BonBon, alias Jennifer Bell (vocals, violin, French whine and cheeses), and Ensign Wesley Stubbs (ret.), alias Matthew Salisbury (vocals, painful itch and swelling). This is the sort of band one thinks twice about before inviting into one's home.

As one would expect, the disc is dominated by shanties and sailors' songs, from the bawdy to the seasick, homesick and lovelorn. Mostly bawdy, just so we're clear on that.

After opening with a brief "traffic report on the Triangle" (a jack-knifed blue whale, backed-up humpbacks and an overturned frigate with floating bodies obstructing the seaway), the band launches with a song called "Fireship" -- which tells the timeworn tale of a sailor and a willing (?) lass, and the product of their encounter. Unlike many songs, where the logical outcome is a bouncin' baby, this sailor finds his would-be love to be carrying a different sort of reward.

"The Bristol Channel Jamboree" seems to be a hearty homeward-sailing song, although I'm thinking the chorus, "Jenny, keep your tail-piece warm," could have more than one meaning. "Good Ale" is a choir-worthy ode to brim-filled mugs of frothy brew, and no, that's not coffee they're talking about. "Drink Old England Dry" details what was perhaps France's vilest threat against the pubs of old Britannia.

"Sailor's Prayer" sounds like a pious entreaty, and indeed it is: "Lord above, send down a dove / with beak as sharp as razors / to cut the throats of them there blokes / what sells bad beer to sailors." "Old Joe" is a vigorous sea shanty turned railroad work song turned sea shanty.

The beautiful Irish song of longing, "Carrickfergus," gets gorgeous treatment here, with nary a belch or sexual reference to mar a very lovely rendition. (The female members of the band seem to have beaten the men into quiet submission to get this one done.)

Of course, things get back to normal for "Blow the Man Down," a nicely accented bawdy song with the same sort of man-turtling reaction found at the end of "Fireship." Ouch. "Maid on the Shore" is an old favorite about a lusty captain and his crew who waylay -- and are bested -- by the wandering girl they hope to deflower. "The Bell-Bottom'd Trousers" is neither about 1970s fashion statements nor about singer Bell's tight-fitting jeans. Rather, it's about a sailor who seduces a young maid. You're surprised?

Some of the finest vocal harmonies are demonstrated on "Rolling Down to Old Maui." "Down Among the Dead Men" also boasts fine harmonies and an excellent philosophy of life. "What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?" is sung with its usual vigor and cruel intentions. "One, Twice, Thrice" is a sweet-and-sour madrigal, lovely tones and lovely intentions leading to the inevitable coarseness.

The album ends with "Mist-Cover'd Mountains of Home," an absolutely beautiful Scottish song of homecoming. It fares every bit as well as "Carrickfergus" here -- making me wonder if maybe the Pyrates should devote a little more time to recording more non-shanty, non-bawdy, non-funny songs. They certainly have the right collection of pipes to give a lot of good vocal bands a run for their money.

Hello Sailor is another good excuse to make the trek south to the Maryland Faire or, barring that, to the band's website. Don't throw this one back, it's a keeper.

[ by Tom Knapp ]




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