The Pyrates Royale,
Black Jack
(Pubduck, 2007)

At some point in their musical careers, they decided to become singing pirates. And the Pyrates Royale have been sailing proudly ever since, and over the course of 21 years they've become the world's -- or, at the very least, Maryland's -- preeminent band of singing pirates.

I'm not sure if this is a boast or a confession, but I've heard and reviewed more than my share of pirate bands. I like pirate music, and I've performed my fair portion over the years. To date, none has rivaled the Pyrates Royale for sheer musicality and extreme cleverness. The band, although it has changed membership a bit over the years, has remained consistently bluff and hearty and perhaps a little intoxicated as it keeps the nautical traditions of the bold captain, the jolly jack tar and the drunken sailor alive and well. (Keep in mind that they're the comedians, though, so don't make any jokes at their expense. If you'd read the first draft of this review, you'd understand.)

The band these days is Brad Howard, Craig Williams, Darcy Nair, Paul DiBlasi and Chelle Fulk. They start off with typical loose morals on "We're Here to Drink the Whiskey," no explanation necessary. There's a whole litany of music that follows, 21 tracks in all, including a whole lot of traditional sea-faring ditties and shanties and the sort of thing you might hear at a Renaissance Faire. A few tracks of note include "Being a Pirate," which explains how pirates lose so many body parts at sea; the traditional (but heavily revised) "The Mermaid," which tells the sad tale of a shipwreck; the always exceptional "Mist Covered Mountains of Home," which makes its first reappearance since the band's first recording in 1997; "You Don't Know Jack," a sordid tale about a sailor and a missing wallet; "Captain Brimstone," which I hate to recommend because it's just so darn foul, but it's a lot of fun, too; and "Our Boat," a riff on "Our House" by Crosby Stills & Nash.

There are a few instrumental tracks scattered about, but they are for the most part unusually short. By the time you get the tune in your head, they're done.

Bottom line, the Pyrates Royale are very talented and really good and a lot of fun and I can tell they truly love what they do. I can't think of any pirate band with whom I'd rather share a tankard of ale or grog.

by Tom Knapp
29 September 2007

[ visit the artist's website ]

Is it possible to review a piratical (pyratical?) CD without using the word "rollicking"?

Black Jack is the fifth CD for the Pyrates Royale, who got their start as an act at the Maryland Renaissance Festival (where they still make regular appearances). The CD's title is a pun on several uses of the word "blackjack," principally that of the card game (in which the winner is the player who reaches or gets closest to the score of 21), as Black Jack celebrates "21 years of violence, gambling, drinking, music and mayhem."

The quintet, who assume pyratical personae for performance, are Brad Lee Howard, a.k.a. Capt. Fletcher Tiberius Moone (vocals, principle bastard, various and sundry utterations and Foley effects); Darcy Nair, a.k.a. Navigator Kat Fairbanks (hammered dulcimer, bouzouki, bones, vocals); Craig Williams, a.k.a. First Mate Long John Skivee (guitars, bouzouki, bodhran, vocals, Foley effects, belaying pin, whip); Paul DiBlasi, a.k.a. Helmsman Drake Mallard (steel-string guitar, vocals); and Chelle Fulk, a.k.a. Quartermaster Molly Stubbs (violin, viola, vocals, violinish gas emissions, whip). They are joined by guest musician Glen McCarthy on "Young Ned of the Hill/Drowsy Maggie" and "Captain Brimstone."

So what do they sound like? Whatever you're expecting given their origin as a ren faire act, they're extraordinary musicians, and in good pyrate fashion, they're sneaky about it. Black Jack opens with the declaration that "We're Here to Drink the Whiskey." It's a fun drinking song, the sort of thing you'd hear at a ren faire pub sing. It has a great ending -- but it doesn't show the Pyrates' real chops. It's the next tune, the traditional "You Fair Spanish Ladies," sung a cappella, where they knock you off your feet with their harmonizing abilities.

Rather than comment on all 21 tracks, let me just name a few other standouts. "Being a Pirate," we're told, is all fun and games until various body parts get chopped off, including a ... whatsit. "The Mermaid" is another traditional tune, but one the Pyrates confess to having messed around with "a lot." The movie-cliche captain's wife is an especially great touch. The melodic "Mist Covered Mountains of Home" is simply lovely and, like the "Spanish Ladies" before it, really shows the Pyrates' true talent. Finally, the CD closes out with "Our Boat," a tune that will sound familiar to many, though the lyrics are not quite what one might remember.

Lyrics are not included in the liner notes for -- according to the Pyrates' website -- reasons of copyright. However, amusing notes on each track are included.

I wish Maryland were closer; I'd love to see the Pyrates Royale in person. Black Jack is part bawdy, part gorgeous and, yes, all rollicking.

by Laurie Thayer
10 May 2008