The Hard and the Easy – Great Big Sea
Nothing captured the essence more.
Three not-quite-middle-aged men casually sitting roundtable style, strumming the chords and belting the verses (with no song sheets in front of them, I might add) to songs that have coursed through their veins since birth. Great Big Sea’s ninth studio effort, The Hard and the Easy (or "The ‘Ard and da Easy" as its annunciated from multi-instrumentalist Alan Doyle’s mouth), is not only packed to the gills with 12 traditional Newfoundland folk songs, but also firmly supported by a DVD backbone; one which features casual go-arounds on a handful of the album’s centerpieces.
On the Hard and the Easy, the trio pays homage to every aspect of Newfoundland’s musical heritage — from the old-as-dirt counting song "Come and I Will Sing You" (which sounds an awful lot like "Twelve Days of Christmas") to the beer-guzzling anthem "The River Driver." And while the musicianship is top notch, the undeniable sense of intimacy is what really stands out here. This crop of traditionals, sang by countless musicians — amateur or professional, drunk or sober — belong to no one in particular. They belong to generations of people. Each song, if never even mixed in a studio, lives and breathes on its own — timeless statements of labor, love and loss as old as Newfoundland itself.
"The Mermaid," sprinkled with tip-toe banjo and soothing flutes — which also provided inspiration for the album’s fishy artwork — swims in watery folk narrative; the graceful finger-picking and melodic accordion of "Graceful & Charming (Sweet Forget Me Not)" brings the foot-stomping opening suite to a screeching halt; and Sean McCann’s get-up-and-go guitar sends the listener on the chilly journey of seven men to rescue the frozen body of a horse, who fell through a pond on "Concerning Charlie Horse."
Age, not grace, acts as the defining factor with these songs; something that traditional American music simply lacks. And unlike the porter that inspired these gleeful tunes, their flavor will remain fresh with each passing year — not go stale.