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20 years is a long time in anyone’s life.
Few bands last more than an album or two — a few tours, a song played on the radio, and
then they’re quickly forgotten. Alan Doyle, Sean McCann and Bob Hallett have somehow
managed to keep the dysfunctional-family-bar-room-brawl-student-art-project-musicalpirate-
crew known as Great Big Sea going for two decades. And more often than not,
they have done it with more than a bit of flair.
For the hundreds of thousands of fans who have sang, danced and celebrated with the
band, Great Big Sea has been a constant factor in their own lives. While musical fashions
have come and gone, Great Big Sea has maintained an unswerving commitment to their
original ideals — a belief that a marriage of their own creativity and the joyous folk music
of their home in Newfoundland would be an unbeatable combination.
Time, and their own stubbornness and persistence has proven them right. Compiled by
the band members themselves, XX is a special two-disc set which captures the many
highs in a recording career that has produced ten full-length CDs and two DVDs. In
order to express the band’s two sides, one disc covers the biggest hits from their more
pop-oriented repertoire, while the other contains some of their most loved traditional
and folk songs. To balance out the discs, the band recorded six new songs — almost a
new album in itself — which run the gamut of their varied stylistic approach. ‘Heart of
Hearts’ is classic Great Big Sea, the sound of three men singing and playing acoustic
instruments together in their own kitchens. ‘Live This Life’ is a majestic epic, hearkening
back to the sonic experimentation of albums like ‘Fortune’s Favour’. ‘Le Bon Vin’ is a
hearty Newfoundland version of an old French folk song, one the band has sung live for
years, and finally committing it to tape for this collection. ‘Josephine the Baker’
recreates the earliest years of the band, in the rough and ready sailor pubs of St. John’s.
‘Born To Believe’ is a powerful FM radio anthem, while ‘Let My Love Open The Door’ is
the band’s take on the Pete Townsend solo hit, re-imagined through the lens of some
questionable characters from Newfoundland.
The XX box set that accompanies this release is packed
with bonus material that both the casual and truly
committed fan will enjoy. Beyond the two-disc greatest
hits collection, it includes another disc that contains
some of the band’s lesser known excursions and
experiments. Over a 20-year career the band has
sometimes gone astray, and these embryonic ideas and
mis-steps will be fascinating to all those who have
followed the band’s varied journey. Another audio disc
features one of the band’s first interviews, recorded in
the fall of 1993 for CBC St. John’s, which includes rare
and unheard songs from the band’s earliest days. The box
contains a special book covering the many ups and downs of their career, along with
lyrics, stickers, and a calendar covering a year in the band’s life. True fans are eagerly
awaiting the set’s DVD, which contains a movie edited together by Sean. Containing a
wealth of early interviews, backstage foolishness and general craziness, it captures the
madness of the band’s first few years, but without the bruises, bad food and hangovers of
the real thing.