Flying Fish Sailors

For over 15 years now, Houston's Flying Fish Sailors have served as a musical genre unto themselves. Combining witty and bizarre original comedy songs with traditional folk, Celtic music, olde English ballads, sea shanties, pub singsongs and instrumentals, their live shows are always a good time. That feeling is replicated in the band's seventh record, Poke You in the Eye. While it's not as solid as their previous effort, Loch Ness Monster (that album's title track is reimagined here as a Caribbean steel-drum number), Poke still shows the band's strengths.

Singers and multi-instrumentalists Greg and Jim Henkel, Jay Lee, Joseph Linbeck, Jim Bedinghaus and Mitch Lawyer deliver a loose-limbed affair, which really perks alive on instrumentals like "Campbell's Farewell to Red Gap" and "Scalloway Lasses/Gravelwalk." The jaunty jigs are full of zing, even though most of them are too short. The musically traditional but lyrically contemporary "Coffee, Oh!" and the title track are repetitive, but that helps them stick in your head.

Of the covers, a lush take on the Beatles' "Rain" is masterfully executed with the Sailor touch, and Gary P. Nunn's "London Homesick Blues" and the Aussie anthem "Waltzing Matilda" are worthy additions to the canon. Linbeck's whistles and Greg Henkel's violin work embellish the songs particularly well.

Much to one's surprise, however, the record falls flat in the humorous numbers, which are more scant here than on previous releases. Songs about dollar stores, the food chain and large felines -- though rife with comic possibilities -- are simply lyrically limp. Is Greg Henkel in a comic rut?

Poke You in the Eye often feels like an odds-n-sods assortment. It's a scattered effort, and its ideas are often half realized. Still, in keeping traditional music vital and fresh, the Flying Fish Sailors prove again that they crew the boat you want to be on, since it's probably got a well-stocked bar.


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