Folk Weirdos: Son of Rogue’s Gallery and The Uncluded
Well it’s only June, but I’m going to call it and say that the award for Weirdest/Most Gonzo Roots Music Recording of 2013 will be a tie between the madcap sea chantey compilation Son of Rogue’s Gallery and the unprecedented collaboration The Uncluded, which joins the anti-folk of Kimya Dawson with motormouth hip-hop MC Aesop Rock. Here are a few thoughts on each of these strange releases and why they’re so oddly compelling.
Son of Rogue’s Gallery. Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.
2013. Anti Records.
Son of Rogue’s Gallery is an off-the-wall, frenetic, partially insane compilation of celebrities and rock stars and folk legends singing old sea chanteys and pirate ballads. It’s bankrolled by Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski of the Pirates of the Carribbean movies, and I guarantee you will not find stranger or more interesting artistic duets on any album this year. Much of the buzz for this album has been about Tom Waits & Keith Richards duet on the old folk song “Shenandoah,” which is a pretty fascinating cover of the song. Shane MacGowan’s cover of “Leaving Liverpool” is getting lots of press too, and deservedly so. He sounds almost lucid and his voice is actually pretty listenable. But these collabos are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia slams her way through the call-and-response chantey “Sally Racket” accompanied by indie folksters Akron/Family. Ivan Neville’s New Orleans funk cover of the classic “Mr. Stormalong” is another favorite of the album. Hollywood icon Anjelica Huston turns in a totally feasible cover of my favorite maritime song: “Missus McGraw”. Consider the lyrics to this one:
Mrs. McGraw lived on the seashore
for the length of seven long years or more
When a great big ship sailed into the bay
“It’s my son Ted with his legs away.”
Then up comes Ted without any legs
And in their place are two wooden pegs
She kissed him a dozen times or two
Saying “My son Ted is it really you?”
“O were you drunk or were you blind
when you left your two fine legs behind?
Or was it walking on the sea
That cut your legs from the knees away?”
“I wasn’t drunk and I wasn’t blind
When I left my two fine legs behind.
But a cannon ball on the fifth of May
Cut my two fine legs from the knees away.”
The songs are brilliant throughout. Salty, sandy, rough-as-fuck sea anthems that have somehow stood not only the test of time, but the death of the sea as the primary means of intercontinental travel. I wonder sometimes how these old songs survive, and I wonder even more so how songs as strange, disturbing and archaic as those collected in these volumes have survived. But the real reason is they’re just damn fun to sing!
Of course, not every track works perfectly, and as a whole the album is dizzingly diverse and eclectic, but that’s the fun. A good pirate crew had crewmates hailing for many ports of call across the world, all drawn together by the bounty of their seafaring trade. This compilation’s the same thing: a chance for many different artists to shelter together on a strange journey. It suits the spirit of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies perfectly while also bringing some much needed new life to the old sea chantey tradition. Plus it’s a lot of fun to listen to and discover (and sing along with!).
The Uncluded. Hokey Fright.
While Son of Rogue’s Gallery draws most of its strangeness from the combination of wildly divergent artists collaborating on obscure folk songs, The Uncluded’s first album, Hokey Fright, draws its strangeness from the simple combination of two artists that seem very different, but actually have a lot in common. Anti-folk hero Kimya Dawson and hip-hop MC Aesop Rock may seem totally unconnected on paper, but less so in the studio. They’ve both made their bones off their stream-of-consciousness lyrics, street-wise rhymes, and DIY values. While Kimya became nationally known through her extensive work on the film Juno, Aesop was at the center of the 90s backpack rap world. After falling in step with each other’s music and muses on Twitter, they started collaborating and found that their unpredictable musical stylings meshed well together. Though Kimya is ostensibly a folk artist, her songs inspired by folk music and performing often with just her voice and an acoustic guitar, she’s always had a rap-like flow to some of her songs. And though Aesop’s known as a speedy and radically creative MC, he was actually the one to approach Kimya first to trade music, so clearly has far-reaching tastes. After trading songs over email, both artists bonded over the sad passing of hip-hop artist Camu Tao, a close friend of Aesop’s. Because of this Kimya asked Aesop to guest on her song “Walk Like Thunder” from her 2011 album, Thunder Thighs.
The two developed a close friendship from this experience, and began to tour together. When I interviewed Kimya for the now-defunct Cowbell Magazine in 2011, she talked about her and Aesop connecting over “critter hunting,” a funny theme that features throughout the album. “That’s what we do for fun,” she said, “we stay up to like one o’clock in the morning with flashlights, like walking along the creek looking for frogs.”
Kimya also talked how they both had more in common than people might think: “It’s really cool because I think once people pay attention, you know, who might not have listened to hip hop or might not have been into folk music, they realize that he and I are just a couple of blabber-mouthy nerds. If they pay attention to the words, they realize that we are actually really similar.” I’ve written before about how two wildly eccentric artists can somehow straighten out their eccentricities by collaborating together. But I’m not sure that’s happening with The Uncluded’s album. It’s more like they’re just holding hands and taking a walk together, letting each other speak in their own fashion. Love it or hate it (and we happen to love it), this is definitely one of the most strangely compelling folk albums of the year.
This post originally appeared on the Hearth Music Blog. Check out our website and roam through our blog to discover your next favorite artist! We’re dedicated to presenting today’s best Roots/Americana/World musicians.