- Category: Reviews
- Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 17:25
- Written by Joe Follansbee
- Hits: 614
Most modern renderings of maritime music--sea shanties, music hall ballads, forebitters, and the like--tend toward the cheery; it’s harder to tease out the darker side of life at sea while plinking a banjo. But a new album by LA-based John Kraus and the Goers titled Derelict has an almost brooding quality driven in part by its song selection and a mix that’s heavy with darker tones. “Derelict is not always celebrating the sea,” according to the band’s website. “There are more moments when fists are shook in the sea’s general direction.” The album’s 10 songs--four traditional, five original, and one by San Francisco folk singer Skip Henderson--explore the common sailor themes of loneliness, loss, and fear with a 21st century ironic authenticity.
John Kraus knows his business on the water; he’s captain of the Los Angeles Maritime Institute’s brigantine Irving Johnson, which sails out of San Pedro. (He’s in charge of “seamanship” in the album credits.) Derelict is his second and better effort after his 2007 collection of traditional song recordings, called Donkey Off a Dead Horse, and he also plays with some of the Goers in the “Los Angeles Americana” group Rose’s Pawn Shop. The sea-folk band describes its style as “off-folk,” perhaps referring to an interest in pulling in the acoustic sounds of brass and congas, which are not in the usual suite of trad instrumentation. David Dutton’s percussion gives many of the tunes a quirky flair, as does Bob Aul’s tuba in the bassline, but with less of a comic riff that low-end brass so often conveys. Tim Weed’s fiddle reminds us that it’s folk music, after all. Taken together, the music has the all-comers feel of an open-mic night, but with a true professional polish.
If you like songs on an album to hang together in some way, Derelict achieves this, though the band doesn’t want listeners to think of the CD as a “concept” album, along the lines of The Who’s Tommy or Jethro Tull’s work. A few songs stand out for me, namely “Farewell to Nova Scotia,” one of the better takes on the Canadian maritime folk standard, and “Roll the Derelict,” an original piece of tall ship power folk that could’ve been a new arrangement of an 1860s pump shanty. John Kraus and the Goers’ Derelict reinvents the shanty for a wired audience while honoring the traditions that have kept the maritime folk sub-genre alive.