A Field By The Sea. It’s a pretty stirring title, invoking, as it does, visions of desolate beaches, wind-swept heather and frothy, undulating waves. Smokin’ Joe Wiseman came up with it while looking seawards from Cape St. George, where his eyes came across the cemetery – a field by the sea if ever there was one.
While not exactly a somber outing, Field does spend some time exploring death. The title track looks into outmigration, lamenting the loss of Newfoundland and Labrador’s young and wondering who will lie with the province’s ancestors in their “marble orchards,” which is another poetic handle for graveyards.
“The image of the graveyard with the limited number of headstones and people leaving town with the mill closing, it all came together,” Wiseman says.
And then there’s the “Ballad of the Blue Puttees,” a melancholy ode to the Newfoundland Regiment and it’s royal ascension in World War I. That ascension came at great cost, as Mr. Wiseman notes during a haunted, spoken bridge of the song: “Only 68 answered roll call on the morning of that fight.”
To Mr. Wiseman, the decimation describes the province’s character neatly.
“Why did that occur, and what does it have to do with the character of Newfoundland?” he asks. “Newfoundlanders wore an insecurity complex on their sleeves. If we were going to hire someone for a job, and they were from somewhere else, that person would be considered better than anyone else.”
He goes on to note the economic straightjacket the province is struggling with, saying much of the current situation is owing to an inferiority complex.
“So what we tend to do is overcompensate. That insecurity drives our determination. That insecurity, to me, was highlighted by the fact that Newfoundlanders were wearing blue puttees. There wasn’t enough green khaki to outfit the troops, so they took blue sail cloth and made the puttees out of that.”
Mr. Wiseman has two ancestors who were killed in the war. A photograph of Harold and Clyde Coish can be seen on the back of the CD, as well as within the insert.
But Field By The Sea isn’t just a catalogue of aching introspection. The album sounds a few upbeat notes, as well. “Cheatin’ Blues,” for example, is a drawling 12-bar telling of a man whose wife has a lesbian affair and doesn’t think it qualifies as betrayal.
“Someone told me a story about that,” Mr. Wiseman says. “I wanted to tongue and cheek it because they’ve reconciled their differences. Today’s morality is very different – we’re open. Conveying that message in a tasteful way: Relationships are complicated.”
Every relationship is bound for conflict, he continues, and the blues is a perfect vehicle for presenting that tension.
Mr. Wiseman had coaching with most of these songs. He’s a member of various online guilds, especially www. songu.com. Based in Nashville, the online university provides a workshop environment for songwriters. Not only were a lot of his songs coached in that forum, but the musicians who play on the record were sourced out through the university’s rank and file. The boys just passed the material digitally from one studio to another.
But, while having his songs coached helped bring an objective eye to his work, Mr. Wiseman is sometimes leery of the process.
“Like most people, when something you create is being criticized, it’s threatening,” he says. “I write for my voice. Consequently, some of the criticisms I get, I can’t do anything about. The other thing is I don’t necessarily want to say everything the way Nashville people would say it.
“My songs aren’t Nashville pretty; they’re real life gritty.”
Joe Wiseman, or Smokin' Joe as he's better known in music circles, has released his first CD: A Field By The Sea.
Frank Gale: The Western Star
A lover of music all of his life, he said some of his earliest memories are of folks in the kitchen playing guitars, accordions, harmonicas and singing the popular songs of the times and the classic traditional songs. Wiseman said his musical tastes are eclectic and run from rock, blues and folk to the traditional songs celebrated in Newfoundland kitchens. He plays acoustic rhythm guitar and sings lead vocals with Smokin' Joe and the Wolves and Keltic Jam. He said his voice has been compared to Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Jim Morrison.
His CD is a compilation of 10 of his originals, along with Moonshiner, which is his own adaptation mixed in with the lyrics from several versions of that particular song. Wiseman said the CD's title song, A Field By The Sea, is about people leaving Newfoundland and "not" ending up in the field by the sea.
Another song, The Legend of the Blue Puttees, is a tribute to the Newfoundland Regiment and Wiseman has even included photos of his two ancestors, Harold and Clyde Coish from Seldom, Green Bay, on the CD jacket. Harold was killed at Beaumont Hamel, France, and Clyde at Paschendale, Belgium, in another horrific battle.
Wiseman said the song also aims to remind people that Newfoundlanders per capita had the highest casualty rate of any of the allies in the First World War. As a result of what Newfoundlanders gave to the effort, King George V renamed the Newfoundland Regiment the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the first time such an honour was bestowed in war time. "I wanted to tell the story of what happened at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916, when the next morning of just under 800 soldiers that went into that battle only 68 answered the roll call. This represents the character of the Newfoundland people," he said.
There are 1,000 copies in the first run of his CD. Some of the numbers can be heard on the Internet at www.mypace.com/smokinjoewiseman The CD involved several musicians, including Juan Albarren from Indianapolis; Fab Tranzer from Florida; and Jason Roller from Tennessee and was produced by Wolf Publishing in conjunction with Juan Albarran..
He began writing songs four years ago and now has more than 40 songs to his credit and others in the works. He has tried his hand at adapting traditional songs to today's urban sounds and recently began collaborating with son Waylon who is arranging the instrumental side of some of his dad's songs.
Wiseman is the co-ordinator for the Newfoundland Branch of the Songwriter's Association of Canada (www.songwriters.ca) He is a Gold Member of SongU and maintains a member page at www.songu.com/members/smokinjoe. He is also an Executive Member of the Bay St. George Folk Arts Counci. (www.bsgfolkart.com).
He said his second project, an Electric Blues CD, is near completion with a 2008 CD release date.
Lifetime love affair; Smokin Joe Wiseman releases blues CD
The Western Star
Smokin Joe Wiseman has just released his second CD.
The musician says the 15 songs on “Blue Smoke” reflect his lifetime love affair with the blues.
Wiseman said listeners of the CD will enjoy the lead guitars of Waylon Wiseman, Fab Tranzer and Stan Gallant. Studios involved in the recording process include Mallczar Productions in Stephenville, Little Known in Lewisporte, JARE Recordings in Nashville and Wolf Studios in Kippens.
One of the numbers — “No One Got The Blues” — features a sax solo by Kevin Carey.
Tracks can be accessed at the Smokin Joe’s website www.songu.com/members/smokinjoe by just following the songs link to studio tracks from his first two CDs as well as scratch tracks for his upcoming country/folk project.
Wiseman just returned from a successful songwriting workshop in Toronto entitled SongStudio09 which produced co-writes with Emmet Bresnahan and Dennis Dolloff, as well as agreements with Matt Gerber for a song and back-up vocals and with Steve Didunyk for some accordion work. Wiseman received funding from MusicNL through its professional development program during the past four years and has used the support to develop song-writing skills and to make industry contacts.
He now has more than a dozen co-writers as friends and has co-written anywhere from one to four songs with each of them.
Wiseman has performed at Hugh’s Room, Ravoli’s, C’est What and the Cadillac Lounge in Toronto as part of the professional development experience. One of his highlights was performing with Rik Emmett of Triumph and another was reciting a song in progress with the late Jeff Healey.
As for reaction to the new CD, Wiseman said so far, so good.
“Those who have heard it and like the blues genre tell me they love it, and that it’s good blues,” Wiseman said.
There’s even a song on it entitled “Blues for Michael,” which is about Michael Jackson and was done in 2006.
Wiseman said “Everything But Me,” a country song on his first CD “A Field By The Sea” caught on in Europe and is getting lots of play there.
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