Okay, we get it. There is no need for further evidence that Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski have developed an immortalizing affinity for all things piratical. Not that there's anything wrong with pirate fever, mind you, (I might be the only one on staff here at Amoeba Music SF that'll openly admit to being stoked about the prospect of future chapters in Pirates of the Caribbean film series) it's just that their enthusiasm for more legendary exploits of swashbuckling buccaneers, pillaging priveteers, salty sea dogs, and scurvy scallywags of yore sure has manifested itself in stranger ways than Walt Disney's theme park attraction turned multi-billion dollar motion picture franchise success story (sorry, Haunted Mansion). Of course I'm talking about their published tributes to the sea chantey arts.
Back in 2006 Depp and Verbinski had a hand in producing Hal Willner's Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys -- an unruly and somewhat drunken compilation featuring an intriguing, genre-spanning line-up of mostly high profile pop/rock artists revisiting a bounty of maritime folk and seafaring work songs, songs that were once passed down quite literally over vast oceans of time thus contributing to modern music styles in more way than one might immediately suspect. These reinvigorated renditions of antiquated rhymes that comprise Rogues Gallery serve as pleasant testaments to the durability of oral tradition, though oddball tracks buoy here and there throughout the cut, rendering some beloved chantey-man reels near unrecognizable, freakish even, challenging imbibers to sink or swim along with each tune and demanding listeners to temper their grog with a certain amount of equanimity.
Now, Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys, the latest second two-disc installment in the Depp/Verbinski/Willner pirate hymns and devotionals, released February 19th on Anti Records, is as boozy and weathered as its predecessor, exploring new crests and troughs of the diverse spectrum of second-wave maritime melodies that advance and perpetuate the popularity of salt-sea songs and drunken sing-a-longs. It should come as no surprise that the likes of Tom Waits lashed up with Keith Richards and the slow-rolling runnels of layered vocal-rumblings over a watery melange of acoustic strums and pluckings in their rendition of the early 19th century folk song "Shenandoah" is a highlight of the record that almost making up for neither of them appearing in the original Rogues Gallery crew. In fact, curious pairings are more of a theme this go 'round what with even Michael Stipe and Courtney Love getting together (!) for "Rio Grande" -- one of the more traditional-sounding contributions that outweigh, say, more "raw" cuts like Iggy Pop and Hawk and a Hacksaw's grisly take on "Asshole Rules the Navy".
Todd Rundgren, however, should be marooned for his take on one of the most wildly popular whaling chanteys, "Rolling Down to Old Maui" (made famous by the late great master of modern Canadian Maritime Folk, singer-songwriter Stan Rogers). His high-impact club-thumper of a pop dance pump-a-thon is the most heinous and unnecessary so-called interpretation of an enduring classic on the whole record. In fact, it's so abominable that I almost want it to work despite the sum of it's being jacked-up beyond all recognition because his is precisely the kind of yarn that makes this funky weave worth unraveling. Instead it seems that Todd is having a laugh, baiting the hook for nautical nerds everywhere only to violently yank our jowls out of our faces before we can fully gag on his electronic mutiny. [Dearest Todd, I love you and I know you've sort of "gone bamboo" of late what with your new tiki bar opening soon, but come on! Rather than pillage a classic when you should've pumped your bilge with a something a little more kitschy like the Sex Pistols did with "Friggin' in the Riggin'"] I'm just not into it.
Of all the artists that appear here there are some very lovely surprises like actress Anjelica Houston singing "Missus McGraw," Marianne Faithfull together with the McGarrigle Sisters on “Flandyke Shore,” some long lost Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Inventiondoing an instrumental version of one my favorite old sea songs "The Handsome Cabin Boy" (check out Ewan MacColl & A. L. Lloyd's traditional recording on their albums The Black Ball Line (1957) and A Hundred Years Ago (1963) as well as the excellent Topic Sampler No 7 collection Sea Songs and Shanties) and even the rock n' roll pirate himself, the Depp, lends a loving hand on "The Mermaid" with Patti Smith and "Leaving of Liverpool" with Shane McGowan and first mate Gore Verbinski.
All in all, the savvy outweighs the sloppy with tracks like Dr John's rum-soaked "In Lure of the Tropics" drinking Macy Gray's reggae-toned "Off to Sea Once More" way, way under the ship's table in this NSFS (Not Safe For Starbucks) compilation. Other seaworthy notables include songs from Beth Orton, Robyn Hitchcock, Nick Cave (who previously stacked two tracks on the first Rogue's Gallery voyage), Sean Lennon paired with Jack Shit (also appearing again) as well as Akron/Family who this time around teamed up with New Orleans' gender-bending rap duo Sissy Bounce (Katey Red and Big Freedia) -- a triple threat balancing tamer teams of three like actor Tim Robbins with Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs singing "Marianne." In short, if you fancy lengthy compilations loaded with the promise of adventurous curiosities, maladjusted charm, sloppy oddities, and deviant beauty then avast ye matey -- this here's the swill for you.