The Wakami Wailers, |
The Last of the White Pine Loggers
I approached the The Wakami Wailers' lumberjack songs with apprehension and came away with considerably more understanding of life as a lumberjack at the turn of the 20th century -- plus new respect for these four men preserving a musical history. The Last of the White Pine Loggers features 14 tracks that define the heroic, lonely and frequently dangerous lifestyle of logging. The Wakami Wailers also seem to be having a very good time.
The collection opens with the camaraderie of "The Lumber Jack Song," which tells about the winter months of "hurling down the pine." Rob Hollett, Mark Despault and Mike Bernier share vocal duties in solos and harmonies with enthusiasm.
"Les Raftsmen" is a lively song almost completely in French except for the English stanza "To greet us come our ladies gay who help us spend our hard-earned pay." The sad ballad for "Peter Emberley," who left Prince Edward Island in 1880 to pursue a tragic career as a lumberjack, and drinking and dancing song "The Gatineau Girls" highlight the splendid harmonizing of the Wailers.
"Lost Jimmy Whelan" spotlights Bernier's fiddlework in another tale of a lumberjack killed in the line of duty, leaving a love behind. "The Jam of Gerry's Rock" expands on both of those ideas with seven deaths and excellent musicianship.
Bernier is also featured on mandolin, Hollett plays guitar and bodhran, and Despault, guitars and concertina. They are joined by Jeff Allen on spoons and bodhran, and co-producer Andy Thompson on bass, piano and accordion.
Many of the songs bring influences from the various heritages of the original shanty boys who timbered the pines. "The Backwoodsman" encounters a fiddler "playing the reels of Old Ireland for four hours long" and many of the melodies seem familiar, although not necessarily with these lumberjack lyrics. "How We Got Up to the Woods Last Year" has a lively tune and blazing lyrics related to the sailing song "Mrs. McGrath."
Raconteur Jeff Allen brings this CD toward a close with "A Lumberjack's Legend." An accomplished storyteller, Allen builds the suspense of this tale of lumberjacks tricking the devil into taking them home for the holidays. As the story advances to its climactic finish, the background accompaniment transitions into the fiddle tune "Devil's Dream."
Despite a few uneven spots, such as the admonition "Save Your Money While You're Young," this is a fine collection, blending the unique lyrics of this profession with traditional roots. The final song, "The Last of the White Pine Loggers," is original to the Wakami Wailers and way too brief. It's a remembrance of the lumberjacks who left their families each winter to make a living among the pines and of the talent of The Wakami Wailers, who keep their music alive.
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