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Published: 2004/03/30
by Katie Mavrich

Something Beautiful – Great Big Sea

Zoecords 01143-1049-2

When a band is in its infancy, the members are still trying to figure out
what works best for them, what they can get away with, and what they should
never, ever do again. After a decade or so, the band is pretty comfortable
in their skin, and they know what works best for them, what they can get
away with, and what they should never, ever do again. Together since 1993,
Great Big Sea has obviously figured out their equation. A combination of
folk rock, traditional Celtic songs, and even a little bit of punk are
scattered about on their latest album, Something Beautiful. Perhaps
it was time, or perhaps it had something to do with the revamped recording
process that Great Big Sea employed on this album. For the first time, they
played live in the studio with a full band. Prior recordings had drums, of
course, but they were added into the mix after the fact.

After listening to the first four songs on Something Beautiful, you
may think it’s safe to draw comparisons to the Counting Crows — even with
Great Big Sea’s cover of Scottish band Runrig’s "Beat the Drum." Alan
Doyle’s voice sounds a lot like Adam Duritz, and their upbeat folk rock
songs are definitely reminiscent of those of the ’90s rock stars. But then,
as hard as a slap shot into the goal, you get hit with the Celtic punk
"Helmethead," about a young hockey playing lad’s luck with the lassies. "Ok,
it’s a fluke," you think. But, wrong you are. The album segues into a
different direction after this. It is almost as if it’s cut into sections,
because those Counting Crow-like tunes are almost a memory in the latter
half of Something Beautiful.

It is in this later half that the Newfoundland group really shows their
roots. With swirling mandolins, fiddles, accordions, and sailor harmonies,
Celtic musical remnants are scattered all about – think Carbon Leaf toned
down a little – and Great Big Sea knows just the perfect mix of traditional
and contemporary. There will be times when you want to just sit back and
listen, and at others you simply won’t be able to get up and dance a jig.
The second cover that the band pulls off remarkably is a traditional Child
ballad that is easily centuries old. Of course, over the years there have
been countless versions of "John Barbour," and Great Big Sea’s version
manages to sound fairly new, it is only the lyrics about sailing the high
seas and a girl’s future groom taking over her father’s land that give it

Great Big Sea leaves you with one last cover of a traditional tune, the
entirely instrumental "Chafe’s Ceilidh." This one nixes the contemporary
touch, and is played with such merriment and vigor that you’ll have a hard
time holding back from swigging a beer and kicking your heels up in a fast
paced jig. Something Beautiful is indeed beautiful through out its
entire journey. From traditional to modern, from rock to Celtic fusions,
Great Big Sea has found their niche.

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