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The old time, live-in lumber camps where loggers spent entire winters isolated from families and society were often referred to as “shanties”—a term unrelated to the sailor songs called “sea shanties.” Michael Dean had his first taste of shanty life on the Raquette River near his birthplace in northern New York around 1872 at the age of 14.
“A Shantyman’s Life” depicts the trials of enduring a winter without access to liquor or female companionship. In his Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman, William Doerflinger writes that “after about 1860 liquor fell under ban in almost all camps. Loggers put up with this hardship, sometimes making quick trips downriver to ‘see the dentist.’” In an oral history interview, Wirt Mineau (b. 1878) who logged on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix Valley said “No, there wasn’t any liquor allowed in the camps, but sometimes they had some.” The many Pine County saloons where Dean worked as an adult relied on thirsty shanty men who sometimes overran these northern Minnesota towns when the camps let out in the spring.
Well a shanty man’s life is a wearisome one, though some think it free from care,
It’s swinging of an axe from morning until night in the forest wild and drear,
And sleeping in the shanty bleak and cold where the winter winds do blow,
As soon as the morning star does appear to the wild woods we must go.
Had we ale, wine or beer our spirits for to cheer while we’re in these woods so wild,
Or a glass of whiskey shone while we’re out here all alone, it would pass away the long exile,
Transported from the glass, separated from the lass, our lives seem long and drear,
With no friend in sorrow high to check the rising sigh or to wipe away the briny tear.
When the spring does come in, our hardship then begins for the waters are piercing cold,
Dripping wet will be our clothes and our limbs they are half froze, the pike poles we scarce can hold,
But rocks, shoals and sands give employment to our hands, so our well-banded raft we steer,
And the rapids that we run, well, they seem to us but fun, we’re void of all slavish care.
Brian Miller and Randy Gosa craft intricate arrangements of rare old songs entwined with the history of the Great Lakes
region. Their sources and their approach celebrate two centuries of Irish musical influence on the under-explored folk song traditions of the north woods....more
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On this album the different concertinas are persons. They are different characters, they laugh, they cry, they grunt and they moan. Every sigh is recorded, nothing is left out. I think this is a wonderful approach and in the hands of this very skilled musician the instrument itself is singing and dancing. Anita Botman