So when people heard that Will Oldham (Palace Music), Alasdair Roberts (Appendix Out), and Jason Molina (Songs:Ohia) were getting together to make an album, their fans practically fainted. These guys are each very accomplished in their own right, all in the field of sort of dark folk and songwriting. The idea that they were going to form some kind of supergroup was shocking in its implications and people expected whatever resulted from the group would be some kind of century-defining, absolutely brilliant album, greater than the combined oeuvres of all three men and their contemporaries. Of course, that didn't happen. Instead, they released an EP of sea shanties.
Well, they aren't really sea shanties, but the topic at hand is whaling and seafaring, and there is a certain... salt air about the whole thing. There are five songs officially and one secret track which I confess I have not heard. I haven't spent much time peeling apart the writing credits and such, so I'm not sure who did what songs and such, and I think it's better that way. There are obviously different styles at work here, and different voices, but it's hard to discern them when the sound of the record is so anachronistic and foreign. These are the songs you might expect to hear sailors' lonesome wives singing to themselves as they hang up their laundry to dry in the wind, or perhaps a lone strummer in a darkened wharf bar is commanding all the old mates' attention with an old song they know by heart. "Maa Bonny Lad" and "My Donal" seem more the former, and "The Last House" and "Major March" the latter. Either way, they all have a very authentic feel to them - I find it hard to believe that the first two tracks aren't actually real mourning songs sung by those lonely wives, and the songwriting of the rest of the album is period-perfect, not breaking the spell either. That said, I feel that "Gypsy He-Witch" is a bit of a misstep, sounding a little out of place among the longing and whale-oriented other tracks. It sounds a little too much like regular Songs:Ohia. That is not a bad thing in itself, but when listening to this I like to think I'm there in that dirty hovel, hearing some cracked-voiced local bard telling the story of his lost love whose bones are not buried facing west.