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Music Review - `By the Risin' of the Sea` by James Kahn (dmac)

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

 11 April 2022



James Kahn’s By The Risin’ Of The Sea is a delightfully unusual album. If you listen to this release with unengaged ears, perhaps while completing another busy work task at the same time, you may completely miss out on this music’s intentional uniqueness. Sometimes, Kahn sings these songs like an old pirate who is telling tales. Ah, but while these recordings may sound like a collection of old sea shanties, they’re actually contemporary subjects – only put to old, traditional musical styles. 

Kahn might be known better to some as an Emmy-nominated TV writer-producer, as well as author. Kahn’s restless spirit is also expressed with music, though, and the new album comes with an succinct explanation of its contents and intents. “Traditionally sailors sing shanties about their struggles with the elements, their hardships and toil. These contemporary shanties address our modern crisis – climate change, covid-19, oil slicks, species dieoffs, and existential angst – with probably, black humor, and yes, even hope.” And that’s an accurate assessment! 


The album’s title track both sounds and reads like a sailor’s lament. However, it kicks off the project with lyrical commentary on climate change. It’s been said that sea level rise is happening because of added water from melting ice sheets and glaciers and the expansion of seawater as it warms. Kahn also addresses Covid-19 directly with the unsubtle “In the Covid Times.” It’s sung like a merchant marine choir, acapella, with handclaps applied for percussion. It’s also sung like a guy looking back on events that happened many years ago, when in truth, this one’s actually about much more recent times. 

It's sometimes difficult to determine Kahn’s motives for this music. Is he singing to inform non-believers about the Earth’s impending environmental disaster, or is he preaching to the choir? Or is he just expressing his deep misgivings about modern human behavior? No matter what may compel Kahn, he performs these songs with a near-religious fervor. In fact, you could replace some of its references to the Earth with the word ‘god,’ and it might well sound like a buccaneer’s gospel album, instead. 

Although Kahn applies an acapella approach more than once, however, when he accompanies himself instrumentally, it’s with traditional folk instrumentation. For instance, one titled “No More A’whalin’,” is driven by mournful banjo. Throughout the album, one hears fiddle and other acoustic instrumentation, as we;;. 

James Kahn is a little like a contemporary John the Baptist, behaving like a voice crying in the wilderness. Or some Old Testament prophet or other. Those that agree with Kahn’s clear political agenda will be heartened by these songs. He takes on some of the biggest environmental issues and puts his thoughts into enjoyably old-time music. Even if you’re not especially political, though, these sounds are built upon a solid folk music framework. 

Kahn deserves kudos for taking a creative approach to getting his message out. Granted, it contains a lot of information and some of the artist’s “angst” can be a little overwhelming at times, nevertheless, he carries it all off with plenty of passion and enthusiasm. This is serious business, and by no means any kind of Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Instead, it’s a dark and informative journey.



Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh


Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio,, Country Standard Time and 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

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