various artists,
Sailing on the Sea:
An East Coast Compilation

(Tidemark, 2000)

I was in Halifax for Tall Ships 2000 in July -- the atmosphere was festive, to say the least, and there was an abundance of recordings and collections of songs released for the occasion. One of these collections was Sailing on the Sea: An East Coast Compilation. I picked it up during my shopping spree in Halifax, and have enjoyed listening to it ever since. The list of contributors reads like a who's who of East Coast music, and each track tells a different story of life in eastern Canada, one that is inextricably joined to the sea.

Having heard "Farewell to Nova Scotia" performed with an upbeat rhythm, I was surprised when I heard the delicate voice of youngster Aselin Debison whispering those familiar words. Her intro to the song begins the CD, and sets the tone of emotion that is carried through the rest of the tracks. The reprise is the final track, and brings the CD to a close with a new rendition of a classic song. With a voice beyond her years, Debison adds a deep melancholy to the song.

J.P. Cormier, known mainly for his instrumental talents, is a familiar name on the East Coast music scene. "Long for the Sea" is, quite simply, a beautiful song. The plight of the fishermen of Cape Breton ("How can you be a man when they take away your means?") is his subject, and his trembling vocal and gentle guitar accompaniment will carry you to the rocky shores if you allow them to. A similar theme is taken up by highland heights in "Sailing on the Sea," with a bit more anger in the words and the melody. Nova Scotia guitar virtuoso Gordie Sampson contributes his version of Sinead Lohan's "Sailing By," from his album Stones. It's a love song, perfectly suited for Sampson's higher vocal range.

PEI singer/songwriter Lennie Gallant's live version of his popular "Peter's Dream" is definitely one of the highlights of the record. The sound quality is excellent for a live recording, and the upbeat tempo is a healthy contrast to the melancholy of the first few tracks.

Newfoundland Celtic rock group The Fables are next up with "Fish Out of Water" from their 1998 release Tear the House Down. Their trademark multi-instrument sound spices up this song about the death of the fisheries. The Ennis Sisters follow with their arrangement of the traditional tune "Right Here With Me," another love song. The harmonies are exquisite, and tremble with the sadness of the violin. The quiet introspection of this track is followed by the power ballad "Heaved Away," performed by MacKeel. There is an edge to the singer's voice and a great bass track.

A popular traditional sounding song, Tom Lewis's "The Last Shanty" is performed by The Celtic Connection. I like other renditions of this song more, actually; this one isn't quite rowdy enough. The bodhran is great, though, and the harmonies almost make up for the lack of rowdiness. McGinty slows down the tempo again with "Girls of Neil's Harbour," a sentimental ode to the women who occupy the minds and hearts of sailors who are away from home. The aptly titled "Nova Scotia Lullabye" is performed by composer John Gracie. It is a touching tribute to Nova Scotia, but the combination of Gracie's soothing voice and a regular guitar rhythm make me sleepy. Not improving the situation is the next track, "Lantern Burn" by Cape Bretoners Rita and Mary Rankin, whom I find difficult to listen to at the best of times. Again, the song is beautiful, but it is so soft and lilting that it forces my eyes to close.

The final track, the reprise of "Farewell to Nova Scotia," seals the deal and carries me off into dreamland.

This is an excellent compilation; a lot of talented musicians, vocalists and songwriters have contributed to it. I think it's best to listen to it before bed, though, and not while operating heavy machinery. If you enjoy East Coast music and are looking for a collection which showcases a variety of talents, this is the one for you.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]