Sons of Rogue’s Gallery (Music Review)

Son of Rogue's Gallery cover

Various Artists – Son of Rogue’s Gallery

I was a big fan of Rogue’s Gallery, a 2006 compilation nominally spun out of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It didn’t really feature pirates that often, despite a subtitle promising “Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys”, but it did resurrect a lot of old folk songs to demonstrate how dirty, violent, and desperate the seafaring life was. Admittedly, most of the tracks were forgettable, but there were several amazing stand-outs, and on the whole it made for a fascinating study of forgotten songs. Now we have another two-disc set, entitled Sons of Rogue’s Gallery, that follows largely the same pattern. There are a few differences, such as a couple recordings that predated this project and slightly less depressing subject matter overall. However, It’s safe to say that if you listened to Rogue’s Gallery, you already know whether or not you’ll like Son of Rogue’s Gallery.

This new project got more press than I ever heard for Rogue’s Gallery, thanks mainly to Tom Waits and Keith Richards collaborating on “Shenandoah”. It’s a slow, faithful rendition of the one song from this that everyone already knows, but it’s always nice to hear Waits’ voice in a simple, unironic performance like this. What I would have chosen to represent this compilation, and what I wish there were more of, is the excellent songs from both Shane MacGowan and Macy Gray. They each found a perfect balance between the old culture and modern expectations, bringing their songs alive for today.

There are also several tracks that reinterpret the source material more drastically, with both good and bad results. Todd Rundgren presents “Rolling Down To Old Maui” as a disco-era party song, and Kembra Pfahler’s “Barnacle Bill the Sailor” is a jarring contrast between a classic, gentle style and a noisy experimental one. Elsewhere, Katey Red and Big Freedia (with Akron/Family, surprisingly) turn an old story about sexual conquests into a hip-hop-tingued schoolyard chant, and Shilpa Ray sings a seven-minute revenge fantasy with moody backing from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. And I have to mention Iggy Pop’s scenery-chewing ode to sodomy, “Asshole Rules the Navy”. (Yes, the people I’ve listed are a pretty good representation of the breadth and talent gathered for this. Artists from Ivan Neville to Broken Social Scene to Patti Smith appear here. The most surprising is a duet between Michael Stipe and Courtney Love.)

Despite those examples, most of these songs stick pretty close to a gentle folk approach. I think a few of the performers felt obligated to treat the originals with staid respect. Much like hesitant high school kids reading Shakespeare, you’ll almost overlook the danger and murder that lurks in those gentle-sounding songs. Here is my big complaint about Songs of Rogue’s Gallery, because the original came with liner notes to give more context about each track. This made all the songs part of an interesting tapestry, even when they weren’t as attention-grabbing. Here, though, if a song isn’t interesting on its own, the rest of the compilation does nothing to help justify it.

Sons of Rogue’s Gallery is uneven, but like its predecessor, it has enough great tracks to justify it. The lack of liner notes and inclusion of happier, less desperate songs do make this feel like a step down from the first album. Still, although a lot of people would not necessarily want to purchase this, it’s definitely something that everyone should get the chance to hear.

Grade: B-

 
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