Friday, September 26, 2014

Posting Bail

There are a lot of bands which are described as "best seen live," and probably nowhere is that more true than the renaissance fair circuit. The musicians, either serious or comic, interact with the fans so both explanation and banter give the performances a more authentic character, even if what's said or sung from stage duplicates what might be on an album.

For sea shanty and comedy group The Bilge Pumps, seeing them live is indeed fun in a different way than their albums, as the Pumps rough-and-ready persona always seems to come across better in person than through your speakers. Bail Money, naturally released on Sept. 19, is the rascally buccaneers' first full live album. 2003's Brigands with Big'uns had several live tracks, but only Maroon the Shantyman (Craig Lutke) and Harvey the Corpsman (David Ruffin) from that lineup remain with the band today. Recorded at three different shows over two years (one of which I attended personally), Money is a fine selection of the group's better material that takes full advantage of their mix of improv and scripted humor and some strong vocals from Lutke and Ruffin. Sharkbait Simon (Christopher Dallion) and Splice the Rigger (Nathan Campbell) also handle leads on some songs, and John Crow (Ted Dossey) backs them up and (reluctantly) stands in for Patrick Murphy on "The Night Pat Murphy Died."

That song, as well as favorites "The Derelict" and "Johnny Jump Up," pairs nicely with re-imagined tunes like "Banana Boat Pirates" to give a good feel of the fun of a live Bilge Pumps concert. The humor is not often for the young or easily offended, however. Aside from a couple of hidden tracks, the album closes with awesome versions of "The Dark Lady" and "Seven Bridges Road," teamed with the Kansas City Celtic folk trio Tullamore. "Road" earns an instant spot on any long-term Pumps playlist. Or Tullamore playlist. Or any playlist of songs that showcase great harmony and full-throated celebration of singing.

It's not a perfect album, although most of the quibbles are of the "Why didn't you include (my favorite song) on it?" variety. In my case, that's "The Smuggler's Song" from Brigands. The only false note actually on the album is "The Farmer," a song in which the expected rhyming word of a couplet -- usually of the four-letter or otherwise off-color variety -- is replaced by another word leading to another couplet and then another swerve. It's a song that continues to be funnier in the idea than in the execution and in any event could do with about half the verses it has.

But that's why God made the skip button, after all, and it's the only track I'll be skipping on repeat spins. Picking up Bail Money not only makes sure the Pumps will have the inevitably necessary bail money their antics will require, but that the listener will have a fun and occasionally quite lovely set of songs to enjoy without having to trek to any near (or far) renaissance fairs. Or faires.

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