The A Cappella Sea Shanty Playlist

“Saturday Night At Sea” from the book “Songs, Naval and National” (Illustration: George Cruikshank)

“Sea chanteys are work songs, so they’re designed to coordinate effort between a group of people doing physical labour,” says video producer Jamison Hermann, who sang them while working on ships at the Mystic Seaport maritime museum. “The saying in maritime historical circles is that a good chanteyman is worth ten sailors on a line” — because he helps everyone pull the rope at once.

Hermann put over 60 sea songs — just the pure a cappella stuff — into a collaborative Spotify playlist, Music for Seaports. It’s classic productivity music, good for physical work. And for those of us who work at desks, it’s an excellent morning pick-me-up.

Hermann inherited his love of boating and sea music from his uncle Craig Edwards, a folk musician, teacher, and former director of Mystic Seaport’s Sea Music Festival. Writing about the festival in Catapult, Blair Thornburgh explains:

Shanties were songs of utility, evolving from the wild, yelping “sing-outs” of working men on the decks to melodies and refrains, polished and honed for heaving or hauling — never frivolous, but indispensable.

The shanty (sometimes spelled chantey or chanty, all derived from the French chantez meaning “sing”) is a raw, rough sort of music, a step up from a chant. But if you look for recorded shanties, you’ll find a lot of slicked-up tracks by modern folk singers, piled high with instrumentation and studio engineering.

Even Stan Rogers, the folk singer with the transcendent a cappella version of “Barrett’s Privateers”, cluttered up most of his recordings with mandolin, guitar, bass, fiddle, drum set and even piano. It’s hard to feel like you’re pulling rope and raising sail when a whole band joins in.

Luckily, most folk singers will record at least a few songs, sometimes whole albums, a cappella. Hermann chose only vocal tracks for his playlist, grabbing here and there from several albums — including Rick Spencer’s “Sea Songs and Chanteys”, which features Uncle Craig on background vocals. I’ve added a couple of tracks, including “Randy Dandy Oh” from the surprisingly crisp soundtrack to Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.

After you listen, add your own a cappella shanties. You too can be worth 10 sailors on a line.

Music for Seaports | Jamison Hermann on Spotify


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