Men of the Deeps,
Diamonds in the Rough
(self-produced, 1992)

Having been thoroughly wowed by Men of the Deeps on their 1996 studio recording, I eagerly looked forward to delving further back into the group's long history in Diamonds in the Rough: 25 Years with the Men of the Deeps. It was a worthy experience.

This album is a little rougher -- the voices aren't quite as polished, the recording isn't always as clean. That is a product of being, in part, a live album, not a studio production, and the live energy makes up for the polish lost.

As on Coal Fire in Winter, you'll find tracks here which feature the entire chorus of coal-miners in concert (such as "Thirty-Inch Coal," "Coal Tattoo," "Man with a Torch in His Cap" and gorgeous a capella "Dust in the Air") and some spotlight vocals (including Bob Roper on "Dark as a Dungeon," Ray Holland on "Sixteen Tons," Gordon Sheriff on "Coal is King Again," Gerry Forbes on "Are You from Bevan?" and more). Combined, Diamonds in the Rough is a dynamo of raw emotion in music, both a celebration and a dirge for the mining life that all of these singers know well. It's a moving album, in some ways uplifting.

The album includes three studio tracks from the group's 1975 and '76 vinyl releases, an additional track recorded live at the Miner's Museum in Glace Bay and released on their 1983 LP, nine live tracks from a 1989 performance at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto and three tracks from a 1992 studio session. The latter 12 tracks were never before released.

Deserving special notice is the album's hauntingly beautiful rendition of "No. 26 Mine Disaster," featuring Nipper MacLeod on lead vocals. This song by Allister MacGillavry tells the story of a Nova Scotian mine collapse, and it includes the somber refrain: "There are 10 men gone." The words are sung with a sacred, cathedral air that always leaves my spine tingling. The album ends with the optimistic Leon Dubinsky song "Rise Again," which dispels any lingering gloom.

Again, printed lyrics would be a nice touch in the liner notes, but this is a sparse package: little more than a list of tracks, vocal soloists and instrumentalists. There isn't even a list of names of chorus members, which is a shame -- these guys deserve the recognition.

The rich history and musical culture of Cape Breton continues to astound me. Men of the Deeps are a worthy part of that heritage, and they deserve broader exposure in the world.

[ by Tom Knapp ]