The Lady Leroy
To get anything done, you used to have to put on a pair of trousers. Our wily lass fools her father and then outfights the murderous captain he sends after her, leading her beloved from Ireland to Boston. Hurrah for true lovers, may they always run free!
The Grey Funnel Line Cyril Tawney, 1959 (Universal Songs of Polygram International, Inc.)
Mr. Tawney's masterpiece evokes loneliness and longing like no other. "The Grey Funnel Line" is a nickname for the British Navy. Twelve-string master Tracy Moore taught me alternate tunings, and created this evocative guitar line.
A Brisk Young Sailor trad. English
This was published in Cecil J. Sharp's One Hundred English Folksongs, my introduction in high school to the strange and unusual world of ballads. In the way of folksongs, this bitter lament morphed into the light-hearted ditty "There Is a Tavern in the Town."
The Sea-Serpent of Cape Ann Diane Taraz, 2002
Sightings of "His Snakeship," as the creature was dubbed by a Gloucester newspaper, have declined since a notable 1817 tour of Gloucester Bay. Hundreds swore they saw the critter. A group ingestion of mushrooms, perhaps?
The Wreck of the Caspian Diane Taraz, 2003
A true story recounted in Joan Druett's book
En montant la riviere trad. Quebecois
I've woven my own translation into this delightful daydream, used by voyageurs to keep their paddles going on long journeys up and down Canadian rivers.
The Fair Maid Sailor trad. English
For centuries women served in the army and navy while disguised as men, some earning medals and pensions. There were no physicals back then, and the military was desperate, so anyone willing to sign up was welcome. Later versions of "woman warrior in disguise" songs had the women following their lovers, but in this early one the lass just wants to get away from all that boring housework to hear the cannons and enjoy the band.
The Demon Lover trad. Scots, Child 243
Racing guitar and several dulcimer tracks accent the supernatural in this chilling ballad, at least as old as a broadside from 1657. It's interesting to contrast this with "The Gypsy Davy," in which a woman also cold-bloodedly abandons her husband but suffers no further consequences than sleeping rough with her lover. Here the glittering lady goes straight to hell, I think because she was motivated not by love, but by greed.
The Maid on the Shore trad. Celtic or English
Never underestimate the power of a well-sung lullaby! I greatly enjoy channeling the salty sea captain, who gets what he deserves from a mysterious maiden.
Fiddler's Green John Conolly, 1966 (March Music Ltd.)
Here's to the place the sailors all go if they don't go to hell!
My Johnny trad. English
Pure wishful thinking to a vigorous tune ideal for churning butter or scrubbing pots.
Lady Franklin's Lament trad English
In 1845 Lord Franklin set out in two ships to find the Northwest Passage, and promptly disappeared. His wife hounded the Admiralty for years and funded her own expeditions, but never found him. Larry Luddecke added the gorgeous keyboard strings.
Crossing the Bar Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1889; choral setting by Gwyneth Walker, 2004, E. Schirmer
Music Co.; arranged for solo voice by Diane Taraz, 2016
The sand bar at the mouth of a harbor shifts with each tide.
Leave Her, Johnny trad. English
Usually the last chantey of a voyage, as sailors bid a not-so-fond farewell to the captain, cook, and a frequently leaky ship. We all have to leave her, eventually, and despite complaints can blend voices in a superb melody to mark our passage.