Great Big Sea, |
If you were expecting another foray into Newfoundland's treasure trove of traditional music, you will be disappointed by Great Big Sea's ninth studio album, Fortune's Favour. Rather than use the tried-and-true formula of half original and half traditional songs that had given them success for Up, Play and Turn, GBS has given us an album of 12 original songs.
The band employed Canadian indie performer/producer Hawksley Workman to produce its newest, most radio-friendly album to date. Workman brought heavy pop influences and produced a disc much more radio-friendly than any of GBS's previous material. In fact, it is the antithesis of their last studio CD, The Hard & the Easy, but plays much better than Something Beautiful, their last foray into the pop world. This disc may win over some people who disliked Something Beautiful.
The original offerings on Fortune's Favour run the gamut from the spare-no-energy, hard-rocking "Oh Yeah" to the soft acoustic "England." The one that lends the album its title, you'd swear that "England" was a traditional Newfoundland song about leaving home to make a living on the Banks of Newfoundland, but it was penned by band member Sean McCann. McCann also has a few co-writes on the album with Chris Trapper of the Pushstars. The Trapper/McCann collaboration of "Dream to Live" may be one of the best songs on the album. The lyrics and percussion are the strengths in this song's elaborate arrangement, with the trademark vocals of the band leading to an impressive end to the song. It may be a serious contender for radio airplay.
Bob Marley's influences are evident in "Long Lost Love" and "Hard Case," but the most haunting of McCann's songs on the album has to be "Heart of Stone." The combination of the harmonies, the slow banjo picking and especially Bob Hallett's haunting bagpipes create an achingly beautiful ballad that stays with you long after it's finished. Of all the songs on the album, this is the one that has the most impact for the sedentary listener. Both lyrics and music will stay with you for days.
Alan Doyle is as prolific as McCann on this album, with seven songs to his credit, the liveliest co-written by none other than movie-star-turned-singer Russell Crowe, titled "Company of Fools." Doyle's "Walk on the Moon," with an amazing orchestral arrangement, could be part of a movie score with a grand theme of facing your fears and going forward. It might even be a good theme song for Calgary's Winter Olympics in 2010. Strings, tympani and tubular bells accompany the catchy chorus for the album's first single release. He delivers the opening song, "Love Me Tonight," a rocker about worrying how the band will be received at a show. This placement makes you feel you are at a GBS show and is deemed to be the second single/video from an album full of airplay possibilities. "Here & Now," a gang co-write, also has a grand arrangement except for the first word of the song, which seems mangled somehow. If you can get past the beginning, the rest of the song works very nicely, echoing the sentiment put forth by "Walk on the Moon" about living in the moment and savoring every minute. The catchy choruses of both "Here & Now" and "Love Me Tonight" are reminiscent of GBS's live show.
"Dance Dance" is the most pop-oriented of the 14 offerings, but "Oh Yeah" is the one which will turn heads in the Great Big Sea world. A full-press hard-rock song makes you wonder whether Doyle is considering branching out to a different genre. Growly, loud and full of macho cliches, it is my least favorite on the CD as it seems so out of place.
Hallett's only vocal offering is "The Banks of Newfoundland," and GBS's dark arrangement delivers a very different feeling than other bands' delivery of this not-quite-traditional song. Written in the 1970s by Al Pittman of Newfoundland, percussion, banjo, ethereal violin and GBS's trademark harmonies create the somber mood of this supposedly celebratory song. Other than the need for a more effective bridge, it's ready to join the annals of Newfoundland's trad tunes sung by Great Big Sea.
The album wraps up with Doyle's "Straight To Hell," whose placement has to be an acknowledgement by the band that this CD is going in a different direction that previous successful offerings.
Fortune's Favour seems to be patterned after a GBS show, the offerings placed in such a way that the mood changes from somber and reflective to raucous in a song or two. Perhaps that format will be more palatable to the traditional GBS fans. A bonus DVD that comes with the album is a rare glimpse into the recording studio for this album. Anyone who thinks that the band runs into the studio, sits down for a few hours and records all the songs off the floor, is in for a shock. The band's hard work is evident in the DVD.
Only time will tell if the traditional fans of the band will follow them down this unpaved road to fortune's favour. This listener is ready to follow.
30 August 2008
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