John Roberts & Tony Barrand,
Across the Western Ocean
(Swallowtail, 1973; 2000)

Initially, I wasn't too impressed with the voices. Across the Western Ocean, by John Roberts and Tony Barrand, is subtitled "Songs of the North Atlantic Sailing Packets," and my fondness for nautical traditions had me predisposed to liking it before I even put it in the stereo.

The letdown was immediate. Fortunately, it was also shortlived.

It's true, the vocals aren't the most polished I've heard. But the more I listened to Roberts, Barrand and their guests, the more authentic the music sounded. Across the Western Ocean doesn't make the best background music, but give it some attention and you get the feel of being on a ship and passing the time in song.

Most of these songs tell a story, and the tales are as fun as the music. A bonus on the album is a selection of tracks lifted from journals of the day. The narratives give a true picture of what life at sea in the olden days was like.

Despite my initial misgivings, I found myself enjoying the slightly off-kilter singing of Roberts and Barrand. Give 'em a listen -- and keep your seasickness pills handy.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 11 May 2002

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