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Fortune's Favour: A Great Big Sea Album
Walk on the Moon
A Bold Entry for the Small Canadian Outfit
Great Big Sea is known as the band from Newfoundland who once crossed the acoustic traditional sounds of their island of rock with pop driven modern melodies. They had, at one time, four members; Alan Doyle, Sean McCann, and Bob Hallett remain, while losing Darryl Power in 2004. Darryl was replaced by Murray Foster and Kris MacFarlane recently joined as the permanent drummer (they toured since 1992 without one).
GBS has released many studio albums and three live albums. They're very popular for their ability to modernize old songs, as well as write similarly sounding originals. That was until the release of 2002's "Sea of No Cares." Teaming up with Chris Trapper, the album was the first notoriously mainstream album they had produced, seemingly with high hopes to tap into the growing Nashville market.
It was followed up by the even more mainstream "Something Beautiful", but the next album was the entirely acoustic and traditional "The Hard and the Easy", which faired much better than expected and launched the previously mentioned live tour. This consequently delivered another live CD/DVD combination to our doorsteps. Now we see "Fortune's Favour", the 2008 reprisal of "Something Beautiful", forging its way into the waves of our iPods, radios, youtube videos, and music stores.
Pushing the Boundaries of Their Brand
Let me state that I think the majority of mainstay GBS fans will be turned off to this album at first, no doubt to the often "less folk-more rock" songs available therein. Also, the album features the most of Sean McCann that we've ever witnessed on a single disc. This is, in my opinion, to the success of the project.
It has three traditional songs, all of which are slower and have a very different sound for the normal shanty recipe GBS is so widely known for. "England," "Banks of Newfoundland," and "Rocks of Merasheen" give this album numerous points to sit back and reminisce the days of yore, sailing conditions, or those you've left behind and miss dearly. All three are sung by Sean and Bob. Sean wrote "England" (a truth that shocked me actually, arguably his best composition to-date) and composed possibly the best acoustic song in the history of the band.
Alan fronts the very lively tunes the entire way through, like the most ignorable song they've ever produced called "Oh Yeah." It is catchy, but also shallow. It has its place though, especially for the classic rockers out there.
"Heart of Stone" is a modern lament and a very pretty one at that. The bagpipes add a very nice spirit to the song. "Hard Case" and "Long Lost Love" are my personal favourites, being more folky than the others on the album, and also rather lively without driving too hard. Jeen O'Brien joins the boys for to songs, "Hard Case" being one. She also pens the chorus to a few numbers as well (which does more than you'd expect to diversify the musical balance). Smart move, Great Big Sea, as collaborative efforts have [usually] been your more memorable moments.
"Love me Tonight", "Here and Now", and "Dance Dance" are very lively songs that have the same old Alan Doyle sound that has been very evident in all the other GBS albums. It's not growing old however, he still pulls some magic out of the hat at some points. I personally find these three tracks to be great when it's a sunny afternoon, but once again they pale to the greats of yester-year like "Consequence Free," "Ordinary Day," or "Sea of No Cares."
"Dream to Live" marks the middle of the album and luckily rescues (along with the help of the Banks of Newfoundland) the utter shock you'll feel after "Oh Yeah." A Trapper-McCann co-op, it's far more reminiscent of a Spirit of the West number than anything.
"Walk on the Moon" is the first single released off this album, but also the most predictable tune here as well. Expanding their instrumentation and arrangement really helped out what could be just another "Ordinary Day" rehash.
Now, this last song is another Alan sin. It's title? "Straight to Hell" ...and he means it. A modernization of Faustus if I ever saw one. It's not original--it's certainly not the first song to be written about sold souls and happy trails that follow--but it is fun, and it is the best rock song that Alan has single-handedly written for this band.
Long Lost Love
The Finale of GBS
With the somewhat recent disbandment of the GBS brand, I felt the need to do a small edit at the end of this LP review. I'm not going to discuss the details because, well, I do not know them. I'm not a band member, nor was I able to follow them live due to my region not really ever being on their calendar.
For all intent and purpose, however, "Fortune's Favor" was definitely their pinnacle of studio-savvy production and pop-friendly songwriting. In my book, I never caught onto "Safe Upon the Shore", as it felt too regressive from where their previous work (really since the stellar/emotionally rich "Turn" was released in the latest of 90's), and certainly not cohesive as an album. It felt rushed and disjointed, and did not have the production oversight "Fortune's Favor" did.
The other element missing was the lack of Sean's material. Not that he didn't have the better songs on the follow up, but he did shine maybe a little too bright when "Fortune's Favor" hit the presses, which really would be a novel thing for a rather old band at that point. I'd spent years wondering why Sean never got a little more limelight, and upon his decision to leave (and the way it's gone down since) has left me wondering if that wasn't a reason or two.
In the end, the band had a lot of material that wasn't theirs'. It was cool to see an unknown "rock in the sea" get some exposure worldwide, but eventually the reliance on the Newfie tunes got a bit tried. "Fortune's Favor" was possibly their only entry where they really sought to evolve and do their own thing, and it began and ended here.