Album Review – The Dreadnoughts – Foreign Skies

Top left (grey shirt) – Andrew Hay
Dreads – Drew Sexsmith
Fiddle – Tegan Ceschi-Smith
Hat – Nick Smyth
Down front – Marco Bieri
Missing: Kyle Taylor
Photo credit, Savonna Spracklin

Trying to categorize The Dreadnoughts‘ sound is a lot like trying to describe a rainbow using only one color. I have heard their music described as “cluster-folk,” “pirate punk,” “alt-polka,” “gypsy punk,” as well as countless other contractions of contradictory terms. My best effort was to describe them as what would happen if Great Big Sea, Flogging Molly, Rancid and Weird Al Yankovic got really drunk, absconded on a pirate ship filled with fiddles and guitars and just decided they had enough rum on board to make it to Singapore.

Adjectives I’ve never seen thrown in their directions are serious, somber and sullen. These are all adjectives I thought of at some point while listening to their latest release Foreign Skies. I guess a seven year hiatus is long enough to sober up. Don’t get me wrong, the mish mash of styles and intensity are still ever present, it’s just presented in a much more mature fashion. There is nary a mention of pirate hookers, drunken revelry or the blessed union of potato, gravy and cheese (they did manage to work cider in though.)

I guess the change goes along with the theme of the album. Foreign Skies commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the First World War. One of the immediately striking features is the insert paper from the album. While attention to packaging is becoming a lost art in the day of digital, this steps it up a notch. Before the lyrics to each song, there is a small blurb, telling the story that inspired each song. It’s touching and shows dedication to the subject.
“Up High” is a war chant that opens the album, letting you know this is different kind of ride. The title track, “Foreign Skies” then amps things up to the frantic pace familiar to fans. It switched pace and style a few times, creating a beautiful storm, one of the strongest tracks of the lot.

“Daughters of the Sun” is a straight up punk romp dedicated to the suffragettes who fought for the dream of equality. “Amiens Polka,” as the name would suggest is a straight up polka.

Some traditions are kept alive, including the addition of a sea shanty. “The Bay of Suvla” delivers the goods. The Dreadnoughts can bang out a sea shanty like no one else. I’d honestly listen to an entire album of them.

“Anna Maria” will also sound familiar, with it’s maritime themes. This track would actually fit seamlessly in any of their old records. “Black and White” is another mish-mash of styles.

“Gavrilo” is another standout track, an ode to Gavrilo Princip, who shot Archduke Ferdinand to light the fire that stoked WWI. It’s got an infectious energy and a haunting chorus.

“Black Letters” is a touching acoustic track. It tells the tale of the letters soldiers wrote home to be delivered should they perish. This song does justice to such a moving tale.

I’ve always wondered if there existed an album whose lead single was the last track. Well, I needn’t wonder anymore. That album is Foreign Skies and that single is “Back Home in Bristol.” If you didn’t know what you were listening to, you might mistake its chorus for a Flogging Molly track. It would be one of their better tracks to boot.

This album brings a more mature band, with the same quality. Drunken shenanigans have been replaced with fantastic tributes. It still amazes me that this band remains a niche act. Their catalogue can be put up to the likes the Pogues, Gogol Bordello and Great Big Sea. For now, they remain the secret of a devoted group of fans.

Review – Richard Brunette

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