Sound: On "Play" Great Big Sea does just that, letting loose on yet another one of their seamless syntheses of traditional celtic tunes, distinct covers, and pop originals. As with many of their albums, the two most prominent songs are right up front, and for the most part the quality doesnt't let up. The traditional songs and covers get just the right spin, and the originals are smart and breezy. The album fits with it's primary colours packaging, being a noon-bright, upbeat experience. // 8
Lyrics: With a full sixteen tunes, I'll keep descriptions brief:
01. Ordinary Day - perhaps the most recognizable and beloved GBS original. It brings everything positive about their songcraft (a refreshingly upbeat, sunny attitude even in the worst circumstances, massed harmonies, inspired celtic instrumentation, etc) to the forefront.
02. When I'm Up (I Can't Get Down) - a cover of similar minded Brit group Oysterband's tune, and thus has become the more recognized version. A swirling, odd metred tune with catchy choruses.
03. The Night Patty Murphy Died - a traditional st. Johns song. a prime example of GBS's ability to absolutely blast out newfie pub rock within the confines of acoustic instrumentation.
04. How Did We Get From Saying I Love You... - Alan Doyle's ballad is melodically very similar to others (Someday Soon, Something Beautiful) but, as usual he and the other's effortless brilliance make this a rather strong pop tune.
05. Donkey Riding - the first out and out Shanty on the album is a rich, humorous one, where the donkey in question is a ship's deck winch. The song is a great showcase for their towering harmonies, rendered against a single bohdrain for much of the track.
06. Haven't Seen You In A Long Time - already in evidence with track 2, the group's ability to make distinctive, energetic versions of other people's songs comes through again on this Colin Hay (Of Men at Work and later of prominance on Scrubs) tune. A 4\4 toe tapper with a catchy 12 string riff.
07. End Of The World - that ability for cross genre interpretation explodes on this skip rope version of the REM classic, Stipe, Mills, Berry and Buck being fairly close to GBS's pop sentiments. In any regard Doyle's fondness for verbal gymnastics gets a workout on this cut, which crams all the verses in despite being well over a minute and a half shorter than the original.
08. General Taylor - the album's second A capella folk cover has become a concert staple for Sean Mccann, and of course those perfect four part harmonies. Based on the fate of a traitorous Mexican american war general.
09. Seagulls - breezy, almost too light pop. The bands ability to come dangerously close to being a celtic variant of BNL is in evidence here. Bob Hallett's lyrics are clever, set against a trad. melody. the band oddly chose to reprise this style a couple albums later with "Penelope".
10. Recruiting Sargeant - Hallett here combines the centuries old "over the hills and far away" with more recent variants to eulogize the fate of Newfoundland's Blue Putees in WWWI.
11. Greenspond - a trio of bouncing reels, as is their wont at this point on many albums.
12. My Apology - one of Sean Mccann's characteristically gorgeous ballads, if, like Doyle, he tends to retread melodic ground (compare with "Summer").
13. Jakey's Gin - an unual St. Johns Folk drinking song apparently regarding a bootlegger who sold religous icons as cover. Stirring choruses and a double time coda make this a rouser.
14. Something I Should Know - more Mccann balladry. As with other songs earlier on the album, proof that they can toss off an above average pop song with beatlesque ease.
15. Jolly Roving Tar - an old Newfoundland sea shanty about the sailor's contradictory lifestyle of carousing and hard work.
16. Jolly Beggerman\Rigadoon - this hidden track is known by several names (this particular version in some circles reffered to as "Newfie Rap") and dates back to late medieval scotland. You wouldn't guess that by Mcann's more or less rap delivery and an almost celtic psychadelic backing track. Quite unlike anything else. // 8
Overall Impression: Considered by most to be essential to one's GBS collection, this album certainly warrants that status. It catches them at an interesting point, not quite at the total blend of folk and pop that their next two albums would embrace, but certainly much closer to that paradigm than thier traditional leaning (for the most part) first two records. Someone hearing "Up" and then "Turn" may be confused, but this album fills in the blanks. And the simple fact that "ordinary day" is one of the better Canadian pop tunes of the last decade and a half should make one repurchase this album should it be stolen. // 8