Various Artists – Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys

Avast and haul along the bowline, let loose the topsail and tighten the topgallants… It’s Vol. 2 of one of the oddest collections you’re ever likely to lend your landlubber ears to.

In the past, coordinator Hal Willner has supervised tribute albums to Kurt Weill, Leonard Cohen and Walt Disney, but this time he’s back on board with Johnny Depp for another star-studded voyage. The original Rogues Gallery in 2006 apparently came about when Willner was working with Depp on Pirates of the Caribbean, and both became fascinated by the songs that the pirates might have sung. 

As on the original, a right rum bunch have been press-ganged into service: Tom Waits, Macy Gray, Beth OrtonFrank Zappa… And isn’t this Michael Stipe’s first recording (Rio Grande, with Courtney Love) since R.E.M. split?

The very nature of sea shanties (or chanteys) is that they are intensely melodic and demand to be sung along to. They were originally intended to make the sailors work faster, because the old clipper captains reasoned, “If the men don’t sing right, the ship don’t move right”.

So you get Sean Lennon on the jaunty and aptly Liverpudlian Row Bullies Row, and Patti Smith and Depp’s The Mermaid. Waits’ gruff Shenandoah finds him in the company of that old pirate Keith Richards, while Iggy Pop makes a suitably bawdy contribution and the magnificent Richard Thompson gets under the skin of General Taylor.

There’s a sultry Dr John on In Lure of the Tropics, a macho Marc Almond (Ship in Distress), and a dissolute Leaving of Liverpool from Shane MacGowan, which leaves the impression of grog on the disc. But there are also poignant moments on Tom’s Gone to Hilo (Gavin Friday and Shannon McNally) and Flandyke Shore (Marianne Faithfull with Kate and Anna McGarrigle).

All in all, it’s a refreshingly varied voyage. And if you want to stretch your sea legs further, set sail towards Highpoint/Topic Records’ 2004 collection, Sailors’ Songs & Sea Shanties…

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