Songs of Work on the Waters: Stan Rogers

Work on the sea has always had a certain romance about it — leaving home, testing one’s self against the forces of weather and water, working to sustain a family with hand and mind and heart – and it has always had a certain harsh reality about it, too. The Hungry Ocean, The Perfect Storm,and going back to the classics, Moby Dick all have both sides of working the waters in them.

So does the music of Stan Rogers. He’s a poet of the reality of fisher people’s lives, from the joyous homecoming to the loss of life, from the pride in the work to the despair of finding work in hard times. Through it all, you hear the slap of the wave and taste the tang of salt air in his melodies and his words.

The musical canvass Rogers chose was, for the most part, the Canadian Maritimes.

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His parents had moved to Ontario for work, but the Atlantic Coast connections of place and family remained strong, and became a source when Rogers went to writing songs. His deep baritone, varied melodies with hints of Celtic and Cape Breton music in them, and his lyrics which hit home to the hearts of working people of all sorts and lovers of the seas in all latitudes, have made Rogers an enduring presence in music. This presence remains strong, decades after his death in an accident at age thirty three.

Though several of Rogers’ albums have been reissued, his widow, Ariel, had long resisted the idea of a best of compilation. With Stan’s long time producer Paul Mills working on remastering decades old recordings, though, the time was right. The sixteen track album The Very Best of Stan Rogers is the result.

A top notch result it is, both for those who know Rogers’ music and for those to whom this may be a first meeting. It is a thoughtfully sequenced set of songs, winding its way from the high stepping song of waiting and homecoming Fogarty’s Cove through to the closer, a song of resilience and facing troubles if there ever was one, The Mary Ellen Carter. In between are a song of keeping on with making a life in the sea even when it seems not to make sense, in Make and Break Harbour, another view of that in Tiny Fish for Japan, a song which explores staying home and the traveling life of musician and seafarer called the Lock-keeper, a look at the heart and hard work of the farmer in The Field Behind the Plow, a song of lasting love and hope in Forty-five Years, and a song that unites history, present day, and all of Canada, in Northwest Passage. Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger has called Stan Rogers one of the most talented songwriters of North America. Take a listen to The Very Best of Stan Rogers and see if you agree.

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