The Hard and the Easy: A Great Big Sea Album

Take it back a generation

The Hard and the Easy is possibly the most important album released in the folk music genre in the last decade, at least in North America. Hear me out, I've got some logic to back this up.

Consider the province of Labrador/Newfoundland, and the neighboring Nova Scotia, and that both were largely unheard from outside of their hometowns and what not prior to GBS' launch in the early 90's. Sure, there'd been traditional acts like the Irish Descendants, The Fables, and Stan Rogers, but they were mostly regional. It wasn't until GBS covered Oysterband's "When I'm Up" that they rose to national prominence, and shortly afterward they garnered praise from virtually the entire continent. Newfoundland was no longer a rock in the sea to be admired in geography class.

Never has the music scene seen so many songs brought to the forefront that were once lost in obscurity. With tunes like The Old Polina or Harbour LeCou, Great Big Sea launched a phase in folk music history that will soon be dominated by the long lost songs of the little rock in the sea. The maritime islands have seen an increase in commercialised artistry, and the tourist industry also seems to be gaining steam. This leaves the band's influence as all the more unforgettable.

The album begins with what is claimed by Bob Hallet to be the oldest tune in Newfoundland, dating back into the Old Testament times in the middle east. Of course, there have been Christian and Pagan symbols added since then, but the song remains rather true to its roots. In this version it's titled Come and I Will Sing You. The album proceeds with the aforementioned shanty The Old Polina and then the melancholy River Driver. The album takes a turn for the humourous with the slapstick Mermaid Song (a must see video from their follow up live album "Courage, Patience and Grit").

Captain Kidd presents itself as a welcomed interlude to the album. A fan favoruite, the song protrays the life of a true pirate from Scotland. This rendition, though from Newfoundland, actually has Scottish roots.

Graceful and Charming is the love song of the album. Sean McCann nails vocals and the accordion part is tremendously awesome. Never has a love song sounded so tender, and the tune was actually featured at Sean's grandparent's wedding (which offers a reason to its significance).

Concerning Charlie Horse brings on the bluegrass, with Alan Doyle sounding more cheerful than ever. Not necessarily meant for intellectual stimulation, the song is nevertheless fun and an interesting portrait of the lumber trade.

A personal favourite follows, which is titled Harbour LeCou, and Sean again sings of maidens, sailors, and adultery. Tishialik Girls Set is an instrumental number, followed by another shanty called French Shore. The final of these mentions is notably melodic, and I personally feel it's Alan's shining moment.

A hilarious satire follows in the form of Cod Liver Oil. I've heard the melody used before, mostly in some irish tunes, but the words to this song are great, and it's the "darker" side of the rather uplifting album.

The lyrics to the album are derived from the final number on the disc, Tickle Cove Pond. This feels the most folky, with a large chorus of newfies roaring "lay hold, William Olford" over and over again. It's also, ironically, the second song on the album about a horse falling thru ice.

The album itself faired evry well, selling over 300,000 copies in Canada alone and many more worldwide. For an album that denies modern genre labels, it gave hope to thousands of folk musicians who want to perform the same type of music themselves, including myself. It's no wonder I've chosen to use two songs off this album alone, and at least two other Newfie songs that GBS has recorded prior to this project. They're just that good. And if you're the type, like me, who enjoys simplicity and relaxation, this album is for you.

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