Guano and Nitrates Review - No Quarter Magazine
In the hallway at PyrateCon, a man came up & handed me a CD, asked me to
listen to it, then disappeared into the crowd. We didn't listen to it
until we left New Orleans. As we drove East past Katrina-ravaged vacant
lots that used to be homes and businesses in Waveland and Gulfport, this
music made for an oddly fitting soundtrack and quite an appropriate
souvenir of our visit to the Big Easy..
That CD was "Guano + Nitrates" from the Valparaiso Men's Chorus,
featuring the Tin Men. It's an album of traditional shanties. But it is
very different from other albums of traditional shanties. It is sung as
if by a pub full of drunken rowdies … sung the way sailors would have
sung, with no holds barred, cursing and swearing like … well … drunken
sailors. The lyrics are often lewd, sometimes indecipherably (you may
not know what they are saying exactly, but you can tell it is lewd).
There is a drunken lurchingness to the music, played with instruments
usually not associated with shanties — sousaphone, trombone, washboard,
and viola, along with guitar, accordion, and others, played Nawlins
style. Their sound and rhythms just reek of boozy Bourbon Street.
Appropriately the boisterous "Drunken Sailor" starts off. Other pieces
are likewise high energy, but there's also the slow "I'm so drunk I can
hardly stand" sound in pieces like "So Early in the Morning", and the
soft, serenading waltz sound in "Spanish Ladies".
There are odd juxtapositions. In "Blow the Man Down", done in staggering
waltz-time, the sousaphone takes over for a sweet musical interlude
between the rather raunchy verses. You can see this piece performed (and
waltzed to) recorded live on YouTube at:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=f26dpSlMAVY (the musical interlude is different
then on the CD recording). The sousaphone also gets front and center for
an interlude in "All For Me Grog". It gets lost and off track with the
melody however, almost causing a riot to break out, until it finally
gets back on track.
In the liner notes, we are told "it was decided to assemble a large
group of men for the purpose of making a recording of sea shanties … the
Mermaid Lounge was chosen as the site, due to it's proximity to
recording equipment and alcohol. … Sometime around midnight we ran out
of tape and liquor." The results are something quite unusual, quite
debauched, and quite a blast to sing along to.
The album is rather overwhelming listened to all in one sitting. After a
while, their particular sound does get a bit grating, and runs all
together. But in smaller doses, as spice between selections from other
albums, this sound is energetic, and loads of fun.