The first time I heard “Wellerman,” I was freaking hooked.
Technically, “Twiddles” by Misbehavin’ Maidens was the first shanty I heard, but that’s a very different vibe.
I think that’s why “The Sea” by Sierra Ferrellhas become a constant in my song rotation ever since her album Long Time Coming released back in 2021.
“I wrote ‘The Sea’ to express my love for the ocean and the mysteries it possesses (my name is ‘Sea-erra,’ after all!). The song came to me while I was living out of my van in Port Townsend, WA. The beach quickly became one of my favorite places.
I would walk there every day and look for items that had washed ashore. At the time, I was seeing a blue-eyed Pisces and there was someone else I was interested in who was a Cancer.
Those are both water signs so that’s how they weaseled their way in there!”
I’ll admit this song isn’t a sea shanty in the traditional sense. It doesn’t have that upbeat, good vibes melody that makes it almost impossible not to sing along to. The swanky, haunting sound makes the song feel closer to a siren’s call than a something the sailor’s would be singing.
But the song is Ferrell’s homage to the ocean, and since so many sea shanties use folk lore as elements of the their storytelling, it only makes sense that Ferrell’s mentions of zodiac signs and Poseidon be a reason why this is actually a shanty:
“So Poseidon, give me life
Let me breathe like a Pisces with blue eyes
Or the Cancer who’s always crawling by”
The vibes of this song are absolutely immaculate and make me need more country songs that are sea shanties. Artists like Colter Wall are bringing western cowboy vibes, and artists like Tyler Childers and Charles Wesley Godwin are capturing the essence of Appalachia.
So, I think it’s about time those of us from the coast get some of that same cool and eerie music. I’m not talking about the beachy stuff we get from Kenny Chesney or Jake Owen.
I want stuff from the fishing towns and swamps to be represented.
I want some southern gothic sea shanties.
I got some of those vibes from Emily Scott Robinson’s “Old Gods” and Adia Victoria’s “Deep Blue Waters.” Robinson’s song in particular has this flow that reminds me of a shanty and lyrics that almost mimic the person a sailor has left behind:
“Carry my prayers on the ocean
Carry my prayers on the sea
And if you are meant to be mine love
One day you’ll come home to me”
But neither of these songs quite have that sense of place or focus on the actual sea that Ferrell’s song does.
“The Sea” is easily my favorite Sierra Ferrell song because it’s weird, mildly unsettling (in a good way), and has these awesome descriptions of the ocean.
Maybe it’s just the Florida girl in me, but I’m dying to hear more songs like this one.