Guano and Nitrates (4*)

Sunday, 21 April 2013

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You might figure you’ve heard all the versions of (What Shall We Do With a) Drunken Sailor you’re likely to need, but there’s a hearty roughness to the version that opens this collection, a sort of seedy singalong raunch meets Crescent City degeneracy that might persuade you to have a go at just one more. 

You mightn’t think you need another Blow the Man Down either, but McMurray and crew appear to be having such a good time anyone who fits into the target audience (thirsty people who love to bellow and still know how to curse, drink, and party) is probably going to find themselves reaching for a chilled article and looking for a chance to join in. 

All for Me Grog breaks down into bar room chaos about half way through and gets itself back together to finish in a suitably rousing fashion, while Serafina features a rather classy little jazz solo in the middle, emphasising the fact that the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus might be a bunch of alcohol fuelled degenerates but they happen to include a fair cross section of New Orleans’ best musos.

So Early in the Morning sounds like a hangover song (the sort of hangover where you immediately reach for the hair of the dog that bit you, assuming, of course, you have actually started sobering up). New York Girls works the way the Steeleye Span version (for example, I could cite others) doesn’t, with a ragtag chorus, thumping bass drum with just a tad of syncopation and tin whistle and accordion churning away in the background. Magnificently ragged.

But it’s not all rant and rave, though the words in the chorus of Spanish Ladies suggests it should be. The track starts out as a sort of soft, serenading waltz, builds up a bit of momentum and switches back to maudlin sentimentality until the chorus kicks back in with odd blasts of drunken sousaphone picking its way through the melody line.

The chorus are back on the ran-tan for Sally Brown, complete with a trombone break that sounds predictably the worse for alcoholic wear, while Rio Grande starts relatively tenderly, with an electric guitar solo that fits the vibe that runs through the album perfectly. Light and shade is still possible, even in the degenerate company we’re sharing hereabouts.

The Cape Cod Girls and Rosyanna bring proceedings to a rousing finish, with the latter throwing in a few contemporary references as the bottles clink, the Chorus roars away and the trombones and sousaphone rag around the tune.

All of which goes to show what can be achieved on the Monday after Thanksgiving if you happen to have an assembly of degenerates, recording equipment and a substantial supply of beer to lubricate their throats. According to the self-proclaimed mythology the single session at the Mermaid Lounge lasted as long as the beer supply, and the resulting set of traditional sea shanties filtered through an alcoholic New Orleans sensibility might have been larger had the beer supply been more generous, but what’s on offer here will do very nicely for mine.

It’s not the sort of thing that can be repeated on a regular basis (two or three albums at five year intervals would seem to be about the right ration) but as something to spice up your playlists this highly energised exercise in contagious tomfoolery and ribald rowdiness delivers plenty of fun, with a a drunken lurch as the sousaphone, trombone, washboard, guitar, accordion and viola go about their business and the Chorus does its thing.

© Ian Hughes 2012