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The Barefoot Boys 

click to enlarge 2007, Independent
  • 2007, Independent
Traditional folk is not everyone’s cup of oats: Some find it more virtuous than tasty. But for those who can’t get enough of sea chanteys, hornpipes, and ballads sung raw-whisky pure, the Barefoot Boys’ Sweetwater Passage is a 16-course banquet. This concept album celebrates the old days “when the rivers were the highways,” with songs about log rafts, steamboats, bad gals, worse cap’ns, and mules, including a pair of interspecies torch songs. The unabridged “Erie Canal” gets downright weird, as the crooning canawler dines with his beloved Sal (“I eats meat and she eats hay”) and boasts that “she puts the buff in Buffalo.” In the breakup/revenge ditty “Simon Slick,” a spurned muleteer sends his no-good ex to “the hot place down below.”

Some traditional wordsmiths were better than others: Off/aft and room/home are passable off-rhymes, but Santy/Annie/polka thumps the ear on every chorus of “New York Gals.” Newer tunes include the nostalgic “Lifeline to the Heartland,” “Mary Powell Waltz,” which extols the joys of a day-sail to Kingston, and “Fifty Sail on Newburgh Bay” (cowritten by Pete Seeger).

Since the Barefoot Boys’ last CD, ...With Boots On, singer/guitarist Rich Bala and multi-instrumentalist Tom White have added two more bare feet to the lineup with bassist Rick Hill. This makes for lusty three-part harmonies and a rich variety of instrumental sounds: mandolin, banjo, hammered dulcimer, and concertina swirl their skirts, with pennywhistle and psaltery peeking out like petticoat lace. The CD ends with the timeless music of water and gulls. What could be more appropriate? www.richbala.com.

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