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Music Review - `By the Risin’ of the Sea` by James Kahn (jh)

James Kahn-  By the Risin’ of the Sea (click on image to watch video)

25 May 2022 


James Kahn, Emmy-nominated TV writer-producer/novelist/singer-songwriter is a storyteller across many different media but his latest recording, By the Risin’ of the Sea, is unlike previous works. It’s not a series of stories but instead a series of admonitions about the dangers of climate change sung in old timey sea shanty style. It’s a bit of a conundrum as we think of old pirates telling tales about impending weather disasters, or recounting them in a boastful way, having made it through the storm. As the subtitle indicates though, these are “Shanties For Our Time,” a time of crisis. These songs address not only global warming and melting of the ice caps, but the recent proliferation of violent storms, the pandemic, the refugee crises, global pollution, and personal meaning. Had it been recorded a bit later Kahn may have thrown in the Ukraine war.  Suffice to say he’s got plenty to rant about and the sea shanty style takes the edges off, or at least mitigates the direct messaging somewhat. Commensurate with pirate lore, he mixes in some black humor and sprinkles in a few beams of hope.

While the issues are contemporary, they are not new, but the concept is one that no one else has tried and for that Kahn deserves kudos. It’s still a bit puzzling why he informs us of the melting ice, the wildfires, and global warming. We’re all aware of these issues and most of us turn to music as an escape from these looming signs of doom.  Do we need to be reminded of “the year that Covid ran amuck”? Yet, in many cases where it seems he is getting too preachy, he brings a song such as “Landfall” where some of the lyrics profess a true love for the ocean. He follows that with “Ship of Fools,” which says we can get through this mess with a profound sense of determination.  In any case the accompanying voices and spare instrumental support on some delivers a strong emotional, authentic punch. 

“No More a Whalin’” comes across as missing the yesteryears rather than decrying our current state. The banjo here, the fiddle on the protest of pollution, “Bucket O’ Bones,” the tres on the immigration oriented “O The Ocean Rolls,” and the hammered dulcimer on “Cast on the Water” are all nice additions to the heavy balance of a cappella tunes. “On the Other Side” speaks cleverly to loss of jobs to overseas companies as well as yearning for the old days. “Cast on the Water” points existentially to the need for all of us to find our way, whether we metaphorically follow the small boats or continue our own lonely search for the first sign of the horizon. “Island of Dreams” plays with the age-old colloquialisms “red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” and similar sayings but addresses the loss of species and the environmental cost of plastic and trash. “Sundown,” the closer covers similar turf, (or in this case, water) 

Kahn finds a creative way to unleash these messages but most of his potential audience is likely well-informed while the others tend to shun overly political messaging.  Musically, though it’s a terrific listen that unfortunately for most will happen only once, and not repeatedly.


Jim Hynes



Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

To Read All of Jim's Reviews, Click Here



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