1995, Music

Up (1995) by Great Big Sea

There have been a lot of bands like this over the years. “Celtic rock” has existed since the ’70s and folk punk came not long after that. This particular band might be relatively unique given their focus on Newfoundland but I doubt it. (I have spent very little time in Newfoundland but I suspect there are a more than a few of these bands there.) The thing that does make them unique, as far as I can tell, is their pretty massive commercial success in Canada.

Great Big Sea have a lot of energy on their uptempo tracks. The reason they are so successful, as far as I can figure, has a lot to do with their energy. But it’s why any celtic rock/high energy folk band succeeds. I do wonder if there’s something about Doyle, who sings many of the songs, that people find particularly compelling too. But, regardless, for me this is music I associate with bars and drunkenness. (I lived in Hamilton for 6 years and there are few things Hamiltonians like more than some energetic folk music or celtic rock.) It’s the kind of thing I can appreciate much more as a live experience in part because they are hardly the only ones to do it but, when you see a band like this live, especially when you’re drunk, it’s a lot easier to forget about the other bands just like them.

The originals are sometimes decent and sometimes not. Particularly when they try to go for a more conventional pop rock ballad, such as “Fast as I Can” or “Something to It”, things don’t go so well. These songs do nothing for me and, without the instrumentation, could be any mediocre ballad. The covers are much better, whether they are performed traditionally or a little unconventionally.

But these guys don’t add anything beyond a particular Newfoundland-ness to what is a pretty common sound – at least to my ears. Beyond their enthusiasm – which is de rigueur for this kind of music – I don’t know what is so compelling that they turned into stars.

Anyway, if you like your folk music east coast, and you like that east coast folk music energetic, then you’ll like the songs on here which aren’t (original) ballads. And the same is true if you wish celtic rock didn’t have any rock instruments in it. It certainly succeeds in that sense.

But I want more from music like this. I want better original songs and I want a little more variety or quirk.


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