various artists,
Round Cape Horn
(Topic, 1998)

The subtitle, "Traditional Songs of Sailors, Ships and the Sea," proved irresistible, particularly when found in a small town on New England's seafaring coast. Unfortunately, Round Cape Horn didn't live up to my expectations.

The liner notes provide no information on the source of these recordings, which is a shame. These 18 nautical tracks are reminiscent of some of Alan Lomax's excellent folk recordings, but they lack the encyclopedic level of information on the music and musicians as provided in the Lomax series available from Rounder Records.

I have enjoyed a fair number of archival recordings, but in this case it's merely tedious, evoking none of the spirit or passion of the sea. It's certainly not the exciting collection I'd been hoping for; the singers mostly sound tired. Others may enjoy it, however; it is a fair representation of the sound and mood I'd expect at a seaside rest home or a pub catering primarily to retired seamen. So if it's salty nostalgia you're looking for, you'll find it here.

The songs are mostly performed in an authentic style -- sung a capella or with limited traditional instrumentation. And, while the liner notes offer no clues about the singers (such as Ewan MacColl, Roy Harris, Peter Bellamy and Frankie Armstrong), it does provide some details about the history of the songs themselves. Still, there is far too little information here to qualify the CD as a useful historical resource.

This album isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it should be of interest to insatiable fans of the music of the sea.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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