Lots of songs tell stories, but few tell them quite as well as the tune "Salt, Blue & Bone" by The Getaway Drivers.
The song, from the group's about-to-be-released EP The Truth is Where it's Always Been, tells the tale of a Nantucket woman whose lover has gone on a whaling voyage. It's the early 1800s, long before GPS and most modern medicine, so this could easily be her beau's final trip.
What's more, though Nantucket's located in the Atlantic Ocean, sailors like hers had to travel to the Pacific to find the breed of whales they hoped to catch. This process could easily take several years, says band leader Bob Manor, who got the idea for the song by reading Nathanial Philbrick's Heart of the Sea.
"This left the island with a lot of lonely women, which is where this song comes in," he says. "If you read the history, a lot of times these couples would get pregnant before the voyage, in case the father did not come back. When he did come back, he came home to a 2-, 3- or 4-year-old child, not knowing for sure if a baby had been born at all."
But that's not all: The prospect of losing one's man to the sea led some women to be tempted by the townies who remained. As Manor explains, "Sometimes the sailors would come back to children that looked suspiciously like someone else in town."
In other words, the woman who's the focus of the song has a ton on her mind. Through the sweet vocals of singer/fiddler Sheila Shigley, she laments to her faraway fellow: "Four years have gone by / Baby's sweet sighs, and you've never heard them / When will you come home? / 'Cause I'm cold, cold as a stone."
The song swings and sways gently, like a cradle, doubling as a lullaby for the character's young child. Warm vocal harmonies and duets between the fiddle and cello also suggest an Irish mountain tune, though it's actually based on a sea shanty. By the end of the track, you're just as likely to feel haunted by longing as rocked to sleep.
"A sea shanty's a very old-fashioned type of tune, and a tune one could envision being written at the time," says Manor. "Sheila's experience with Celtic music came in handy here, and she did a beautiful job writing the melody line and portraying both the lyrical and musical sentiments in the song."
An MP3 of "Salt, Blue & Bone" is available in the related files section at right. More music by the Getaway Drivers is available on their MySpace page. The band will play a release party for The Truth is Where it's Always Been at the High Noon Saloon on Friday, January 8.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.