Great Big Sea Biography
Canada’s multi-platinum folk-rock quintet, Great Big Sea, release Something Beautiful March 9 on Zoë/Rounder, the follow-up to 2002s critically acclaimed Sea of No Cares. The new disc freshly captures Great Big Sea’s pop-sensibility, signature roots and rock sound, vocal harmonies and stellar musicianship - aided by the addition of drummer Kris MacFarlane. Something Beautiful includes ten new originals, contemporary interpretations of traditional tunes – the sea chanty “John Barbour” and the instrumental “Chafe’s Celidh,” – and “Beat The Drum,” a cover of the Scottish folk-rock band Runrig’s “Pride of Summer.”
Members Alan Doyle, Bob Hallet, Sean McCann, Murray Foster and Kris MacFarlane recorded Something Beautiful in their native Newfoundland and Toronto. Long recognized for the energy of their live performances, the Newfoundland quartet has toured steadily throughout Canada and the U.S. The Washington Post noted at a 2002 performance, "Great Big Sea makes an explosively joyful noise that is bright and melodic, passionate and heartfelt and keeps to the down-home spirit of the 'kitchen parties' in which the band began... for many... in the audience, three encores weren't enough." It’s no wonder the Village Voice has referred to Great Big Sea as “The Wayne Gretsky(s) of the genre.”
Great Big Sea Something Beautiful Street Date: March 9, 2004 "This record is our boldest attempt to live in whatever musical world we sound best. Some songs sounded best as rock 'n' roll songs, where others like 'Helmethead' sounded best in a sort of 'Celtic punk' setting. It was all about having the courage to let ourselves be something we might not have been yesterday." - Alan Doyle Jan., 2004
Rounder / Zoë Records proudly announces the March 2004 release of Something Beautiful, the luminous and aptly titled new album from folk-rockers Great Big Sea. Featuring 10 compelling original compositions, a traditional interpretation and a stirring cover tune, the new album arrives on the heels of the acclaimed Uprooted Tour, the 2002 North American jaunt that found Great Big Sea sharing stages with fellow Celt-rockers the Young Dubliners and Seven Nations. In all, Something Beautiful upholds the folky traditions of Great Big Sea's U.K. / Canadian ancestors while incorporating heady pop and rock influences. As the Washington Times astutely noted, Great Big Sea writes and performs songs so authentic, "It's often difficult to tell which (song is) original, and which is traditional." That same winning mix of contemporary and classic sensibilities is evident on Something Beautiful. Original rockers like "Shines Right Through," "When I Am King" and "Helmethead" veritably burn with high-kicking exuberance, while tracks like "Something Beautiful," "Lucky Me" and "Let It Go" impart a sincerity that is simply transcendent.
In a jaded pop world where glamour has all but replaced the notion of soulfulness, Great Big Sea has created a shamelessly earnest recording brimming with hale-sung pub anthems, gallant love songs and philosophical ballads -- songs that hew close to the confessional musical values of the band's beloved Newfoundland home. "If I had to define it, I would say that traditional songs from Newfoundland are stories," explains singer-songwriter Alan Doyle. "That said, some of my favorite songs are those that ... tell the listener something about the singer and songwriter. I really think the more honest you are in a song, the better it becomes. So this record is like a mix of those two approaches. It has the most honest songs I've ever written."
The job of transposing GBS's introspective new songs to CD was no simple task. In 2003, Doyle and fellow founding members Bob Hallett (vocals, fiddle, mandolin, bouzouki, whistles, Irish flutes, accordions) and Sean McCann (vocals, guitars, bodhran, tin whistle) were dealt a blow when original bassist Darrell Power regretfully announced he was leaving the band to raise his growing family. Doyle and his remaining comrades plucked bassist Murray Foster from the Canadian rock band, Moxy Fruvous. Foster quickly forged a simpatico groove with drummer Kris MacFarlane, thus giving Great Big Sea their hardest rocking lineup yet. "We went into this new record feeling like we had a full band," Doyle explains. "There's been drums on other records that were often added after the fact. But this was the first time we recorded live off-the-floor with a full band. It certainly changed the way I arranged songs and played guitar. It allowed me room to breathe just knowing a drummer was there to fill in the spaces." As one listen to Something Beautiful will attest, Foster's and MacFarlane’s contributions propel Great Big Sea's new songs to lofty creative heights. Composed by Doyle, McCann and songwriter Kalem Mahoney, "Shines Right Through" opens the album in a storm of hard-driving guitars, propulsive rhythms and earnest vocals. Doyle's "When I Am King" and Hallett's "Helmethead" reveal the band's humorous side, while McCann's "Summer," "Somedays" and "Love" are prayerful meditations on life. The album's incandescent title track was composed in the midst of a particularly challenging time for Doyle. "Last year I buried three friends who all died of cancer," the singer solemnly recounts. "All of a sudden, I realized I wasn't good at offering condolences. So I wrote a song to sing what I couldn't say." The band rounds out the album with three well-chosen interpretations, including a gorgeous cover of "Beat the Drum" by Scotland's Runrig (originally titled "Pride of the Summer"). The heartrending ballad "John Barbour" and the spirited instrumental jig "Chafe's Celidh" prove that Great Big Sea is as motherly with their interpretative performances as with original songs. Something Beautiful is the latest chapter in the inspiring saga of Great Big Sea. Emerging in 1993 with the acclaimed self-titled debut, the band proceeded to take their native Canadian homeland by storm with their uplifting acoustic rock sound and captivating live performances.
Subsequent albums including Up, Play, Turn, Rant and Roar and Sea of No Cares won kudos from some of the world's most discerning critics. CMJ New Music Report hailed the band's "rich vocal harmonies and traditional sounds." In its effusive review of Road Rage, the Washington Post noted that the live album's deafening crowd noise could have been dismissed as "pure jingoism if the music didn't hold up to scrutiny. But the band's robust (songs) ... ultimately affirm what all the shouting is about." The Detroit Free Press described the band's music as a "hard to resist mix of modern acoustic rock, traditional folk, and playful bar band attitude." Now, with Something Beautiful, the pride of Newfoundland cements its reputation as one of the world's preeminent folk-rock ensembles. Combining the integrity of traditional folk with the power and accessibility of contemporary rock and pop, the album's more pronounced rhythms seem certain to appeal to a broad audience. But just as importantly, the members of Great Big Sea have bravely made a creative departure while compromising none of their artistic integrity. "Every band has a certain amount of pressure to make records that existing fans will like," Doyle says. "That said, every band wants make records that reflect their personal musical interests. The challenge is to find a balance. I'm really pleased with this record, and I'm totally confident that it be as widely accepted, appreciated -- and even loved by some -- as our previous records."
For years, Great Big Sea have been adapting the type of celtic-meets-rock formula mined by punk bands like the Pogues into something palatable by the granola crowd, and they were often quite good at it. On 2002’s Sea of No Cares, collaborations with Chris Trappers of the Push-Stars finally helped the band balance a layer of pop gloss with their more traditional sea chanty-inflected material, and it produced one of their most appealing and diverse records. On Something Beautiful, though, the band takes that same direction a step too far. Almost completely dropping the band’s previous association with salty, seaworthy fare, Something Beautiful finds the group settling into the role of a nondescript pack of preppy AAA radio darlings. Its’ hard to hate such a well-intentioned and fresh-faced pack of boys from Canada, and Something Beautiful isn’t an offensive enough album to hate, it’s just strangely faceless; most of it could pass for Counting Crows B-sides. Trite, over-simplistic lyrics do little to rescue the affair (sample plaintively sung lyric from “Love”: “Love, lalalalala, you’ve gotta believe in.”) Hearing this album, it’s little wonder why fans were so concerned about the creeping pop gloss on Sea of No Cares. On Something Beautiful, the blandness dominates.