Pirates Canoe and their debut album, “One For The Pain In MyHeart,” defy easy classification. The lead song, “On Being Unknown,” begins with beautiful, Norah Jones style vocals layered over soothing, Manhattan, cocktail-jazz rhythms. “Guitar Blue” follows with a straight-from-Appalachia feel; complete with fiddle and mandolin. The third song, “Matty Malloy” begins as an acoustic, singer-songwriter ballad and ends with a full tilt Irish reel.
Even the band name is hard to fathom. Did they leave out a possessive apostrophe? Is it a canoe that belongs to pirates? Or is it a simple statement, as in: “On their day off from plundering, pirates canoe”?
But as confounding as all these contradictions are, the biggest one by far is that Pirates Canoe are from Kyoto, Japan. Yes, that Japan. The home of sushi, sumo, and samurai is now the home of some sweet Americana (Japanicana?) music!
Apparently distance is no barrier to discovering one’s own inner rhythms. This sextet clearly grew up with an ear toward the West. Their musical influences tap into all four of America’s great music streams: Jazz, Country, Blues, and Rock. And without the assistance of a big time LA producer telling them what genre they are; they are able to combine all of these styles into a sumptuous musical smorgasbord that’s part Norah Jones, part Carper Family, part Squirrel Nut Zippers and just a touch of Fleetwood Mac. But at the same time, Pirates Canoe is totally original.
Lead singer, Elizabeth Etta’s ethereal voice floats dreamily over the earthy rhythms of her accomplished bandmates. In addition to the aforementioned trio of songs, other standouts include the pub-ballad, “Gull Flying North,” the jazzy, “Blind Is Love” and the unbelievably cool, countrified version of the B52’s “Love Shack.” From start to finish, “One For The Pain In My Heart” is filled with delicious and often unexpected syncopations. So to Pirates Canoe I bid a hearty “Thank ye mateys!” and a “Domo arigato!” for adding a little soy and ginger spice to the Americana scene.