Great Big Sea is one of those bands that fills a particular niche — in this case, traditional Newfoundland folk with a modern pop twist — so completely that no one else needs to bother competing with them. Unfortunately for the group, that niche is narrow enough — and their music is so consistent — that it’s hard to make a persuasive argument for any of their albums being better than the rest; once you’ve heard one Great Big Sea record, you’ve sort of heard them all.
With that said, the band’s ninth studio release, Safe on the Shore, is one of their most enjoyable. For a time in the early aughts, GBS tinkered with glossier production, and for awhile, they seemed unsure of where to take their sound, wavering between Hot AC hopefuls like Sea of No Cares and more traditional fare like The Hard and the Easy. With Shore, they strike a confident balance between the present and the past, and the production (courtesy of Steve Berlin) might be the best of the band’s career.
Underneath it all, this is really just another album about time-tested Great Big Sea topics like carousing, giving up carousing, traveling far from home, and love, but it’s a little saltier than most; perhaps owing to the fact that Shore was recorded largely on the road, the band sounds loose and pleasantly ragged, and the New Orleans flavor that runs through the record — including a fine cameo from Sonny Landreth — adds a welcome new ingredient to their sound.
As is the norm for Great Big Sea, there really aren’t any bad songs on the album, but there are a few standouts, including some of the best performances in the band’s recent catalog; highlights include the banjo clatter of “Hit the Ground and Run,” a gruff cover of the Kinks’ “Have a Cuppa Tea,” and the lovely, accordion-laced ballad “Follow Me Back.” If it doesn’t exactly distinguish itself from the rest of the band’s catalog, neither will it disappoint their fans — or anyone who’s looking to spend 45 minutes with a seafaring crew that can get rowdy and pluck the heartstrings with equal aplomb.
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