If Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash had spent much time in Newfoundland, their CDs might have turned out a lot like Séan McCann’s latest one.
Less than a year after his debut solo release, “Lullabies for Bloodshot Eyes,” McCann is releasing his second, called “Son of a Sailor,” on Tuesday, mixing old-time country with a touch of local traditional music.
The new album was written, McCann said, in hotel rooms, dressing rooms, airports and tour buses over the past year, Great Big Sea’s busiest one to date.
“Lullabies” was a personal, introspective album dedicated to his two sons (Keegan, 5, and Fin, 3), and this one is a dedication, too: to a disappearing way of life.
“I was born out in Carbonear, but my family’s from Gull Island and Northern Bay. We had dories in the water; we could get up in the morning and catch tomcods, cut out tongues. I spent my days out on the water, rowing around and jigging cod, and I had a great time,” McCann explained. “I think those days are, by and large, gone. You’re not allowed to do that now, but there are no wharves to do it from, anyway, and there aren’t that many young children out around the bay anymore.”
The new album features first-person narratives, like “The Reply (The Ballad of John and Mary),” telling of the decades-long love story of McCann’s grandparents, and “Soldier’s Song,” profiling a deployed soldier, longing for home.
McCann was inspired to write the title track for his grandfather, while the first single, “Simple Song,” was written for Keegan, who asked his dad for something upbeat.
“He said, ‘Dad, I like your songs, but a lot of them are kind of slow — can you play a fast one?’” McCann said. “He loves it. I caught him singing it in the bath last night.”
McCann wrote the album’s 10 tracks with a very distinct concept in mind — a country-Newfoundland infusion — and brought in two musicians he calls “the guns” to help him: Figgy Duff’s Kelly Russell and Newfoundlander Craig Young, who spent time in Nashville as a guitarist for country star Terri Clark.
The result, McCann said, is exactly what he was hoping for.
“By using them both, I have one foot in traditional Newfoundland music, and another foot in Nashville, and it mixed together so well,” he explained. “Whether or not it’s successful, it’s exactly how I wanted it to be. I wanted it to sound like an old Merle Haggard record, but I wanted it to be based in Newfoundland.”
Some of the tunes on “Son of a Sailor” aren’t entirely unlike the music McCann writes and performs with Great Big Sea, albeit more toned down and, like “Lullabies,” far more intimate, both in terms of content and nature.
“Great Big Sea has a very specific job, and that is to rock, and there’s not a lot of room for the stuff that’s on these (solo) records,” McCann said. “I think they just wouldn’t fly at a Great Big Sea show because people come there for a different reason. We’re a Newfoundland party band and we do that really well and I’m really proud of that, but I know I’m reaching different people with these records.”
While McCann has been working on his solo CDs, his Great Big Sea bandmates have taken up other projects, too: Bob Hallett released a memoir, “Writing out the Notes: Life in Great Big Sea,” last year, and is working on other books, and Alan Doyle has appeared in the Ridley Scott movie “Robin Hood” and on an episode of CBC-TV’s “Republic of Doyle.”
The group plans to take a little downtime over the next 18 months or so, in order to spend some time at home and work on solo projects, but will come back with a vengeance for its 20th anniversary in 2013, McCann said.
“That’s when you’ll see us back with a big tour and a big record,” he said.
McCann’s already been performing some of the songs from “Son of a Sailor” in small bars and other venues across the country on Great Big Sea’s days off, and said he’s been enjoying being back in an intimate-type show setting for the first time in two decades.
He’ll officially release the CD Tuesday — on the sea, fittingly.
Great Big Sea will join The Barenaked Ladies and others for the fourth annual Ships and Dip cruise on the Caribbean aboard the Norwegian Dawn, and McCann will hold an album launch off the coast of Cozumel.
“Son of a Sailor” will be available at Fred’s Records and O’Brien’s Music in St. John’s on the same day, as well as on iTunes and www.greatbigsean.com.