Album Review – The Dreadnoughts – Into the North

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By Richard Brunette

The task of describing The Dreadnoughts is a mighty one indeed. I’m not even sure their record label knows how to do it. The press kit lists similar to Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. I feel like that’s like someone asked you to describe Montreal culture and your response was simply to say it’s a French city. Sure, it’s not an inaccurate statement, but you’re missing a whole lot of other cultures that make this city the smorgasbord.

So here goes my attempt to paint a picture of the dreaded pirate ship crewed by the Dreadnoughts. Take equal parts Celtic punk and Great Big Sea, throw it in a blender with a full bottle of Krakken rum, then feed the concoction to Weird Al who’s playing accordion sitting on a plank that’s sticking out the back of Gogol Bordello’s tour bus. 

This is the band that named an album Polka Never Dies in protest after they found out that polka was no longer a category at the Grammy’s. So nothing should surprise us then, right? Well, their new effort Into the North is an album composed entirely of sea shanties. Yup, it’s an ode to the ditties that sailors used to sing while traveling the seas and would then, in turn, sing drunk in pubs. 

Honestly, if you’ve ever wanted to recreate the experience of being in a seaside pub at 2am in the 19th century, this album is a pretty good starting point. In fact, I think the best way to experience this album is probably with a couple of friends on a road trip, singing along at full voice, but beware should you be pulled over it may actually cause your blood alcohol level to rise. 

It starts off in full foot-stomping mode. Literally, it’s foot stomps, accordions and harmonies from the opening “Rosibella.” Quebecers will get an extra kick out of the traditional french “Pique la Baleine” which many were probably thought, as I was, to sing in elementary school. For songsters from Vancouver, I won’t critique their pronunciation of the language of love but applaud their ability to capture its essence. If we had this version when I was a kid I might’ve enjoyed music class more. 

Within a sea of classic tunes, a standout is an original composition. “Joli Rouge” is an ode to the Chicoutimi cider house which produces a cider named the Dreadnought in honour of the band. The band’s website  claims “this song also gave us a chance to toss a couple more middle fingers at the syrupy, corporate, mass-produced, vomitous prison wine that is somehow legally allowed to be labeled “cider.” A joyous tribute it is.

The ride takes an unexpected turn at “Shallow Brown.” It’s a haunting poem about slavery in the West Indies that turns the mood from cheers to tears. It’s impressive how well they’ve captured the emotion. They continue this vibe with “Northwest Passage,” the Stan Rogers classic. This song was once voted by listeners of CBC’s Morningside as the alternate Canadian national anthem. They deliver a fitting tribute to the legendary Canadian Folk singer. 

“Dear Old Stan” appears to be a biographical look at the origin of the Dreadnoughts. It’s an introspective song that hits some surprising places for the band. 

The journey does veer back to the pub house stompers before arriving at port. All and all, it’s a surprising journey across variable seas. It’s got surprising depth for what seems like a novelty concept at the surface. When I heard of the concept, I expected an album full of songs like “Randy Dandy Oh,” a stomping shanty they had included on Polka’s Not Dead. The result couldn’t be further away, yet just as endearing as that track. It’s much less boisterous, replacing the raucous sound with something warmer and more intimate.  Three things I assure you I’ll never accuse the Dreadnoughts of is predictable, conventional or boring, something on full display here.  I give this 4 out of 5 cider apples.

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