CD Review - Sea Fever - John Roberts
By Glenn Weiser
Metroland, May 28, 2008

Sea Fever
John Roberts
Golden Hind

Seafaring in the age of sail was an often miserable and dangerous business that nonetheless has given us some of the most enduring songs in the traditional catalogue. British-born Schenectady native John Roberts, who has been singing Anglo-Scots ballads and the like at major folk festivals and venues since the late 1960s both solo and with longtime collaborator Tony Barrand, has devoted most of his latest CD to maritime material both old and new, and frequently in lesser-known versions. I’ve never heard the 64-old baritone sounding better than he does here.

           When he’s not singing a cappella on these 15 whaling songs, sea shanties, and ballads, Roberts usually accompanies himself on concertina, and is joined by Lisa Preston on Celtic harp, Mary Lea on violin and viola, and Ray Wall on tin whistle. As this well-produced recording eschews any vigorously strummed acoustic guitar parts, the backing here sounds more serene than what you might expect.

Folk music spans the longest time period of all genres, and the selections here accordingly range from a 1993 song, “Boatman’s Cure,” by local bard George Ward back to “Sir Patrick Spens,” a Child ballad about the 13th century loss at sea of a Scottish vessel carrying a knight on a mission to Norway for King Alexander III. Other goodies are “The Weeping Willow Tree, a Vermont variant of the famous “The Golden Vanity” and the rousing “The Campanero*” a tale of the rough-and-tumble life of a deckhand. Roberts does jump ship, though, long enough to play clawhammer-style banjo on “Sally in the Garden,” a melancholy old-time fiddle tune.

With John Roberts’ resonant, full-throated vocals and his expert pick of songs, folkies will welcome “Sea Fever.”

Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2008 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  

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