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This book is significant as it is the last collection of songs that John Langstaff, legendary founder of the Christmas Revels, would compile before his untimely passing in December 2005. Known to his countless friends and colleagues as Jack, Langstaff spent much of his life bringing traditional music and ritual and seasonal songs and dances to public view in the annual Christmas Revels, as well as in presentations to school children.
At center stage of this compilation is a group of 85 songs of the sea, including work songs, chanteys, and related maritime songs, from sea and from dockside as well. Here is a variety of such songs: sailor songs of everyday work, powerful maritime ballads and stories, songs from the perspective of women left ashore, and even street cries and children’s games related to matters maritime.
Each song is presented with easy-to-understand piano and guitar accompaniment along with choral directions. Many of these songs can be heard on two excellent Revels recordings: Blow Ye Winds in the Morning and Homeward Bound. They have also been performed in various sea revels produced by Cambridge in recent years. Three musical gems deserve special mention: a rare version of “The Golden Vanity,” taken from the family musical tradition of Scotland’s Douglas Kennedy; “The Jamestown Homeward Bound,” a powerful ballad of an American naval vessel turned relief ship during the Irish famine of 1847; and “Boney on the Isle of Saint Helena,” collected by Frank Warner in 1940 from Tink Tillet in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
The Revels Book of Chanteys and Sea Songs is an absolute must for any fan of the maritime genre of song, whether it be work songs and chanteys, maritime ballads, or dockside songs reflecting the life of women and children left behind by loved ones toiling on the endless sea. This collection of maritime music is a perfect testimonial to the work of John Langstaff. As he says in the book’s introduction, these songs are to be shared and sung by one and all. Perhaps the best way to sum it all up is with a traditional Turkish proverb: The only thing better than finding a treasure is to share it with others. This song collection comes very highly recommended.
—Robert RodriquezDAN BERGGREN, Fresh Territory.
Not too long ago I attended a delightful concert by Dan Berggren, an amiable, multi-award-winning singer/songwriter, who presented funny and serious songs, musical snippets, a humorous poem, and anecdotes. So it was a pleasure to hear Fresh Territory, his latest CD. His songs are “the stories of human nature, love, hard work, failure and success . . . some short as a joke, others as long as a lifetime.”
On this satisfying album, Dan Berggren, joined by other talented musicians (including Dan Duggan, John Kirk, Ed Lowman, Peggy Lynn, and Chris Turano), brings us a full hour of music, with 18 wide-ranging songs, 17 of which are originals. My favorite is the exhilarating and wise “The Whittler.” Dan’s “Make a Better Home,” set to the tune “Angel Band,” is very satisfying. Two more beauties are “Drink of Autumn” and “Winter It Is Past.” Two of these songs have appeared in Sing Out: “Power From Above” and the powerful and touching “Peace Begins in My Own Heart,” with new lyrics set to the tune of “Wayfaring Stranger.”
On the lighter side, there’s the cheery, toe-tapping “Found My Way Back Home” (all about perspective), “Fix It or Stop Complaining,” and “Meadow Box” (lighthearted gardening instructions). I like the philosophical “Seize the Day,” the thoughtful “From Every Mountain Side,” with new lyrics set to “My Country, ’Tis of Thee (America)”, “Only an April Fool” (celebrating our foibles), a great little story-song, “Widow of Charlie Hollow,” “Never Take Love for Granted” (can’t argue with that), and several others—“Whistle Blower,” “Roadblock,” “Like a Sailor,” and “Oh Holy Day.”
Treat yourself to this delicious recording. You can order it for $15 (including shipping) from Sleeping Giant Records, 99 Grove Street, Ballston Spa, NY 12020. All the lyrics are available as a PDF (free of charge) from Dan’s website, www.berggrenfolk.com. A printed copy will be sent along with the CD, if requested. Fresh Territory is highly recommended. So get it—and enjoy!