Great Big Sea
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Great Big Sea
The Hard and the Easy
Zoe Records (www.rounder.com)

Newfoundland-based Great Big Sea is one of the biggest names in the Canadian roots music scene. The Juno-nominated trio's formula on their numerous gold and platinum selling platters is to combine the folk music of Canada's maritime provinces with album-oriented rock. Unlike many current rock groups that draw from Gaelic folk music (The Pogues, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, Black 47), GBS relies primarily on acoustic instruments, crisp vocals and tight harmonies, rather than on electric guitars and the ragged, full throttle delivery of those more punk-influenced groups.

The Hard and the Easy offers a change of pace for the band's many fans. Rather than relying on original tunes, the disk is a collection of covers of both traditional and more recent folk music from their culturally rich island. Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett, and Sean McCann are each talented singers and multi-instrumentalists in their own right, and are joined by a number of Newfoundland musicians on these sessions.

Not surprisingly, sea shanties are well represented, as in the rousing "Old Polina" and "Captain Kidd." However, reflecting the importance of timber to the island's economy, logging songs are also featured, as in the high lonesome piece "The River Driver." And, of course, there are a number of songs alluding to Newfoundland's bitter cold. In fact this may be the first CD in history to contain not one, but two songs about horses falling into the ice ("Tickle Cove Pond" and the humorous "Concerning Charlie Horse") A particularly lovely piece is "French Shore," a beautifully crafted song by Lem Snow about a man reminiscing about his days as a young sailor that manages to be both wistful and sly in equal measure.

This well-produced CD at times borders on being too polished, lacking some of the piss and vinegar needed to pull off this type of material. Fortunately, the collection includes a fascinating 50 minute DVD in which the group plays seemingly impromptu jam sessions in their homes. In the context of these loose, relaxed sessions, the humor and emotional power of these pieces are presented in their ideal setting. - Michael Duke


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