Not that I think for a second they care or anything, but I've looked at Great Big Sea was coming close to suffering what I like to call SOTWS or "Spirit of the West Syndrome."
In the late 80s, early 90s SOTW was one of the biggest campus bands in Canada. Wanted a good time when going to a concert? You would be hard pressed to be SOTW during their prime. They were a great celtic influenced band with some rock elements.
But as the CDs progressed, the rock/pop inflluence increased. Which, oddly enough, also increased their popularity. Radio stations started to play their records and they caught lightning in a bottle with "Venice is Sinking". But that was the high water mark. Old fans got increasingly frustrated with the disappearance of the sound they loved to party to. And, well, depending on radio stations for your popularity is a fickle business. Yes, there's lots of money to be made by having your songs played on the radio. But it doesn't take much for them to turn on you. One record without radio friendly tunes and that's it.
So SOTW faded away. They lost their old fan based and the new ones acquired from the radio ebbed away.
And I wondered if the same thing wasn't happening to GBS. They'll deny it and grumble about it, but there it is. If you ask people in Newfoundland what they think of GBS's recent output there will be a general consensus that it isn't as good as the early stuff. And the difference? The early records were a lot more traditionally influenced; the new stuff a lot more popish and radio friendly.
So to curb the grumbling, GBS has put out an all traditional record "The Hard and the Easy." And understand, this is a risk for the band. Yes, people in Newfoundland will like it. OZ and the like will give it lots of airplay. But I'll be curious to see how much airplay it gets in Toronto or Vancouver. Not as much, I think. So financially speaking, this is a big chance. Then again, I don't know how many more pop records GBS's core were going to put up with before abandoning them. Call it a turning point for the band.
And you know what? It works. I've been playing the record consistantly since I downloaded it (from iTunes) on Tuesday. It's the most listenable thing GBS had produced in years.
I talked about risk earlier, and there is still risk in some of the song selections. They are all traditional, but there have been some very well known versions of these songs. "Come and I will sing you" was memorably covered by Figgy Duff. Ron Hynes did a great version of "Tickle Cove Pond". And so on. To give the band credit, those are two of the stronger songs, especially "Tickle Cove Pond".
However, these are not, to by recollection, dramatic reworkings of the songs. If you heard the Irish Descendents or Figgy Duff do any of these songs live, GBS's version is like going to be very familiar. Which is fine, but certainly be aware of it.
Perhaps my favourite song, and soon to be a favourite during shows, is "The Mermaid". It's pure raunch that you will never hear on radio (the song is about the downside of being with a mermaid), but it's hysterical. Give Sean McCann full credit. Vocally, he pulls it off. I'm not sure if it would have been as much fun with Doyle singing it. His voice isn't...salty...enough.
The album is also a mix. It's not all party and drinking songs. There are the slower, wistful songs, although there are no real tragic Newfoundland ballads where everyone dies or has something terrible happen to them. As close as you get to that are the aforementioned "Tickle Cove Pond" (did the mare survive?) and "Charlie Horse"...so really, if you're a horse, this isn't a great album. Bad things happen to horses on this record.
But for listeners, it's enjoyable. "The Hard and the Easy" is the best GBS record since 1997's "Play". It only took eight years, but it's better than never. After "Save This House" SOTW never did anything nearly as good as their first three records (Maybe with the exception of "Open Heart Symphony"). So GBS might beat the SOTWS yet and have a few more records in them.