Set of the Sail Reviews
The Living Tradition Magazine, UK
Folk Works Magazine, Los Angeles, CA
The Living Tradition Magazine
William Pint & Felicia Dale
The Set of the Sail
From the title of this CD and the artists reputation for maritime material one might expect to hear a hearty set of shanties when the play button is pressed. Well, shanties there are, and other songs of the sea but they are arranged and performed in anything but the conventional style. Pint and Dale have command over a plethora of instruments and use them to great effect in backing songs in dynamic and encompassing fashion.
From the opening Fanfare, a French tune, hurdy-gurdy led, they go into a driving duet version of Go From My Window miles away from the gentle treatment it usually gets in the folk clubs, but none the worse for that. Following on is Linda Kelly's Northern Tide with a rhythmic accompaniment that supports the words superbly, and is enhanced by whistle playing that, to my ears anyway, mocks the call of sea birds. This is a standout track that segues into the Irish jig, Out On the Ocean.
In the course of these four pieces that open the programme we've had voices plus hurdy-gurdy, fiddle, bodhran, whistle, octave mandola, and guitars. All this and a large amount of imagination evident in the duo's arrangements, in which although there's plenty going on never seem over busy. These are two people with a firm grip on their material and their talent. They know what they want to do and are able to do it. It is to their credit that they do not allow their instrumental and arranging prowess to hinder them from putting quality into their singing. They have good voices and know how to use them. Their Dreadnought is a case in point, as is the excellent Mother Dinah. And their version of Rolling Down to Old Maui? Different!
Pint and Dale are very popular over here and this CD gives notice why. I haven't seen them live as yet, but I look forward to doing so. It will be a pleasure.
Not long ago, when The Set of the Sail arrived as one disc in a fat package from Rambles.NET, I learned -- if I'm counting right -- that this is William Pint & Felicia Dale's ninth album. I had barely heard of them, and "barely" may be stretching the point. As I hastily endeavored to educate myself, I discovered that -- as it turns out -- I had heard Pint in the folk group Morrigan, which released an album on Folkways in 1980. Though I've never heard the record itself, two cuts from it are revived on the anthology Classic Maritime Music from Smithsonian Folkways (2004).
"Set happens to be one riveting, thrillingly accomplished recording."
I like to think that not much worth hearing in the way of rooted music gets past me, but I'm always proved wrong, and I am nearly always pleased to be so reminded of my obliviousness. Set happens to be one riveting, thrillingly accomplished recording. As they say, late is better than never. Also rather incredibly to me -- from a business, not an artistic, perspective -- Pint & Dale specialize in seafaring music, which even during the 1960s folk scare engendered few artists or groups committed to it to the exclusion of other genres. Pint & Dale, however, have been at it for years, all but taking up residence on the road as they carry their music all over North America and Europe.
If you didn't know they are Americans who live, at least nominally, in Seattle, you'd think they were English, given the unmistakable influence the English revival (including, prominently, the current one) has on their sound. That means arrangements that are more extrapolations of tradition than traditional in themselves, and applied to the sorts of arcane material that one can't ordinarily learn simply by stealing from one's contemporaries' records, even when those contemporaries are also serious tradition purveyors. (That further means you won't hear "Haul Away, Joe" or "Santy Anno" here. Not that there's anything wrong with either, of course.) On the uncommon occasion that a song is familiar, as with the well-known "Handsome Cabin Boy," Pint & Dale unearth an out-of-the-ordinary melody and set of lyrics. "Cabin Boy" is sung unaccompanied, but most of the other material is arranged with instruments, from relatively skeletal settings to the unequivocally full-bodied.
"...Dale's hurdy-gurdy on several cuts takes the sound into places where even the adventurous Steeleye has not gone."
In the latter instance the result is a sophisticated folk-chamber approach broadly reminiscent more of an acoustic Steeleye Span than of a neo-Celtic band -- though Dale's hurdy-gurdy on several cuts takes the sound into places where even the adventurous Steeleye has not gone. Along with the just-mentioned, Dale contributes vocals, fiddle, whistles and bodhran, Pint vocals, guitar and octave mandolin, joined by Dan Mohler (electric bass), Steve Peterson (drums) and -- on one cut, "The Dreadnaught" -- Tania Opland (fiddle).
All but three of the songs are traditional. "Tom Bowling," however, is counted among the nontraditional only because the composer, Charles Didbin (1745-1814), is known; still, his song has been around longer than many traditionals. The two modern compositions -- Linda Kelly's "Northern Tide" and John Conolly's "The Trawling Trade" -- are pretty much indistinguishable from the more timeworn material. The song choices, all impeccably selected, range from ballads to chanteys to instrumental pieces, and close satisfyingly with the stirring "Adieu les filles de mon pays."
folkWorks Magazine, Los Angeles, CA
ARTIST: PINT & DALE (WILLIAM PINT AND FELICIA DALE)
TITLE: THE SET OF THE SAIL
RELEASE DATE: JUNE 2007
BY MICHAEL MACHERET
Following the oldest of musical traditions, Pint & Dale have gathered a number of great nautical-themed songs in their travels. Their latest CD The Set of the Sail features songs, both traditional and contemporary, they've collected in their travels to England.
"...a very satisfying and well-balanced collection of sea-faring songs."
Unlike some of the more traditional shanty bands, Pint & Dale dress up traditional songs with updated musical arrangements reminiscent of some of the better bands of the 1960s folk music revival but the sound is fresh and current. Felicia Dale plays the hurdy-gurdy, fiddle, whistles and bodhran. William Pint plays guitar and mandolin. Felicia Dale's hurdy-gurdy has a prominent role on this CD and it sounds like she has added a new dimension to her playing on that instrument giving it more of a leading role than on previous recordings.
One of the highlights on this CD is The Dreadnaught the tale of an American clipper ship that was wrecked in 1869 while rounding Cape Horn. The Dreadnaught was launched in 1853 and was renowned for its fast passage between Liverpool and New York. The song is a "forebitter", a sailor's term for the leisure-time counterpart of the work-song shanty. The song is introduced by a brief shanty, "One Ship Drives East":
One ship drives east and one ship drives west
By the self-same wind that blows.
Yet the set of the sail and not the gale -
The set of the sail and not the gale
Determines the way (aye-eh, aye-eh) that determines the way she blows.
Other fine selections include the capstan shanty Mother Dinah a work-song that sounds significantly less strenuous in this arrangement. The Trawling Trade by John Conolly (best known as the composer of the classic Fiddler's Green) is a lament for the days of the independent fisherman. The 18th century song Tom Bowling written by Tom Dibdin is said to have been Henry David Thoreau's favorite song. I don't know if Mr. Thoreau played the fiddle as well as Ms. Dale, but perhans sat beside Walden Pond whistling the tune. Go From My Window is an unusual song in that the fair maiden is able to resist the usually irresistible sailor and tells him to hit the road but in a very lady-like manner.
It seems a good nautical collection of songs is never complete without at least one tale of a woman going to sea disguised as a sailor. This CD has The Handsome Cabin Boy. "The sailors often smiled and said ‘he looks just like a girl!'" Two songs tell of the onshore adventures of sailors: Fire Down Below and Jack Tar Ashore. Fire Down Below is not the bawdy song usually associated with that title but a melancholy tale of a sailor on shore in a foreign land. Their version of Rolling Down to Old Maui has a very different feel from the usual rendition.
Two French melodies, a Fanfare and Adieu les Filles de Mon Pays, learned from hurdy-gurdy builder Mike Gilpin provide the opening and closing tunes of this collection.
This is a very satisfying and well-balanced collection of sea-faring songs. I would recommend this as an excellent CD for those who might shy away from sea music because of the raw, salty nature of most recordings, but I would not warn away real shanty fans either.
William Pint & Felicia Dale - The Set Of The Sail (Waterbug)
Here, but three short years after their previous (seventh) CD Seven Seas, the excellent Seattle duo continue their lifelong voyage through the waters of the maritime music repertoire with their latest CD, which is dedicated to the memory of Felicia's father who sailed the seven seas for most of his life. It's a spirited new collection of songs and tunes, performed with all the duo's customary verve and vibrant musicianship, striking vocal harmonies and of course their trademark sparkling and distinctive instrumentation (guitar, hurdy-gurdy, fiddle, whistles). Most of the songs on the disc were “discovered” by the duo on recent trips to the UK and thus are likely to be quite familiar to English folk audiences - though not necessarily in the form they're given on this disc (William and Felicia are noted for their arranging skills as well as their careful and thorough research). First there's a pair of contemporary songs on the trawling theme: Linda Kelly's poignant Northern Tide (which is, deservedly, attracting a lot of attention of late including a fine cover by Grace Notes on their own latest CD of that title) – to which here is appended an Irish jig (and it works!) - and John Conolly's nostalgic look back at The Trawling Trade. These are well complemented by a brace of shanties which are thoughtfully performed with instrumental accompaniment: Mother Dinah, a less-often-heard capstan shanty from the pages of Hugill, and a version of Fire Down Below, acquired from the scholarly Bob Walser, which here casts a rather different, moodier complexion on the lyric from the usual and provides a neat counterpart to the Pint & Dale version of Jack Tar Ashore. Charles Dibdin's song Tom Bowling is a welcome addition to the set, one we don't hear often, but although its decorative (18th century) melody line isn't easy to bring off Felicia and William do so creditably. There's also a handful of traditional sea songs given unusual treatments - including a driven, “liberty-taking” (their words not mine!) take on Go From My Window and an intentionally epic rendition of the forebitter The Dreadnaught (often associated with the singing of Louis Killen) which is mildly compromised by an intermittent surfeit of sea-sound atmospherics. And there's the old warhorse Rolling Down To Old Maui, which Pint & Dale give a quite refreshing quasi-calypso (and almost rocky) treatment befitting its recreational status. On reflection, I do feel the arranged “performance-harmony” nature of the duo's acappella on The Handsome Cabin Boy becomes just a trifle wearing after first hearing, but it's still very well managed. The two instrumental tracks present delicious renditions of traditional French tunes. All told, The Set Of The Sail is an ideal and natural sequel to the duo's previous records, which certainly won't disappoint their fans while doubtless winning more than a few new converts to their committed, musically and intellectually stimulating - and uniquely spicy - brand of music-making.
David Kidman November 2007