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Whaling and Sailing Songs

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Album Review

Paul Clayton's first commercial album, and a classic of its genre. The unifying element for these 20 songs was Herman Melville — in the wake of his entertaining at the premiere of the 1956 John Huston movie, Clayton was asked to cut an album of sea songs that would have been known in Melville's time, the 1840s, and the result was these 20, a selection of short-drag shanties, much longer halyard shanties, and captain's shanties, all used in connection with different jobs and activities aboard ship. They're passionate, lusty, funny, ironic, and often laced with a mood of sadness, for these pieces were usually sung by men who were in the midst of months away from land and loved ones. Along with Englishman A.L. Lloyd, Clayton was the foremost exponent of whaling and seafaring songs during the '50s, and this album was his magnum opus — his singing is authentically rough and unembellished, making the folk stars of the '50s and '60s sound like the most pretentious things on two legs, yet he manages a subtle sweetness in his tone. His guitar work is as nimble as any in folk music, yet straightforward and never over-embellished. A surprising number of songs here, including "The Maid of Amsterdam" (aka "A-Roving") and "Shenandoah," remain familiar today, though there's little familiar with Clayton's stripped-down rendition of "Shenandoah." There's also nothing repetitive about any of the songs here, or a bland or unmemorable tune on this CD, and some of the material was apparently discovered by Clayton himself in the course of his research. The annotation is extremely thorough, with Clayton crediting his teachers and sources (especially Stanley Slade) and giving an account of the suspected origins and histories of each song. The sound is fairly clean and very close and vivid.


Born: 03 March 1933 in New Bedford, MA

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '50s, '60s

Born March 3, 1933, in New Bedford, MA, Paul Clayton maintained a lifelong interest in the folk song tradition, particularly sea shanties and whaling songs, and was an avid collector of folk tunes. He first heard the old sea shanties from his grandfather, and by fiften years old he was singing them himself, along with other folk material he collected, on a series of radio shows. After earning a pair of degrees from the University of Virginia (where he studied with folklorist Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr.),...
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