Record producer Hal Willner's new collection brings together songs of the sea, songs about drinking, women, death and nasty crimes on the water. Songs of pirates, you say? Hardly. There's nary an "ahoy" or eye patch in sight.
Willner says he intentionally avoided pirate caricatures in selecting the songs for Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys. "A lot of these songs I knew were going to be funny enough. Although a lot are very beautiful and sad..."
The songs have titles like "Baltimore Whores," "Boney Was a Warrior" (about Napoleon) and "Little Boy Billee" sung by the artist Ralph Steadman about eating the cabin boy.
"The wrong thing to do would have been trying to be funny — no aarghing, no gluging, just keep those pirate and sailor caricatures out of the picture," Willner says.
Willner is known for his tribute records, covering the music of Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen. The idea for Rogue's Gallery germinated on the set of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, with actor Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski.
The singers include Sting and Bono.
"I know them both," Willner says. "Sting sang on my Kurt Weill record 20 years ago. It seemed that he was perfect for this because I knew his background. He knew a lot of these songs."
Sting's performance on the sea chantey "Blood Red Roses" surprised many listeners, Willner says.
"A lot of people who heard this record, a lot of the hardcore kind of punk papers and all that, didn't know it was him when the song started and just went, 'Wow, this is really good.' So I actually e-mailed Sting and said, 'Hey, stick with me, I'll have you back in CBGBs in no time."