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Janie Meneely and Calico Jack
Celebrating Chesapeake Traditions
From pirates to Point Lookout, the music of Calico Jack celebrates the maritime history, characters, and traditions of the Chesapeake Bay. Comprised of veteran performers Janie Meneely (Crab Alley) and Paul DiBlasi (Pyrates Royale), Calico Jack rambles from the raucous ruminations of ne’er-do-well sea captains to more thoughtful ballads about the people who make a living “working” the water. “We don’t do a lot of sea chanteys,” Meneely says, although she admits to having more than a few up her sleeve. “There’s so much traditional music out there about the maritime trades and life afloat, but not nearly enough about the Chesapeake region. We tend to concentrate on songs about the Chesapeake watermen or the oyster wars or contemporary boating, wherever it may be.”
Songwriter Meneely began her musical career in the group Crab Alley, which showcased original songs about the Bay and recreational boating. Since then she has produced three albums of Bay-inspired tunes. The first, a solo CD called “Give Me a River” released in 2001, comprises a dozen original songs that range from the haunting “Red Sky,” to the ever-popular “Twiddles.” Her second Chesapeake-centric CD, “The Oyster Wife,” includes instrumentation and back-up vocals from her Calico Jack cohorts, principally Paul DiBlasi (guitar and vocals, but also including tracks from Geoff Kaufman (concertina), Chelle Fulk (fiddle) and the Seattle-based duo of William Pint and Felicia Dale. From a ballad about a waterman’s untimely end in a winter storm (“Old Bill”) to the upbeat humor of “Toadfish” (Meneely’s paeon to tournament fishing), the songs on the album sparkle with Chesapeake Bay wit and wonder. A more far-reaching collection of general maritime material is included on a third album, “You Don’t Know Jack,” released in 2008. A fourth album is in production.
”There’s so much to sing about the Chesapeake Bay,” says Meneely. “We’re trying to preserve the traditions and stories of the watermen and their communities. So many people have moved to the Chesapeake region from far away places, and they have no idea what a skipjack is. They don’t know any Bay history. They haven’t heard the stories told around the liar’s bench in an Eastern Shore country store.” Meneely tries to capture the essence of those moments in her songs, whether she’s retelling ghost stories or describing a workday aboard an oyster dredger, “freezin’ our butts off on Chesapeake Bay.” Ultimately, she says, she wants her music, in some small part, to kindle an appreciation of the Bay and its traditions. “I use my art to preserve the resource,” Meneely says, “the same way a painter might capture a lighthouse on canvas. It’s just that you can whistle my art on the way to work or sing it in the car with your kids.”
Meneely is joined on stage most often by her real-life partner, singer and guitarist Paul DiBlasi. A former member of the colorful Pyrates Royale, DiBlasi’s mellow baritone adds a full-throated gusto to the mix. He adds his repertoire of classic work songs to Meneely’s portfolio of originals--along with a flair for harmony. He also gives voice to the watermen Meneely so often sings about.
It’s the blend of old and new in her performances that led Meneely to choose the name Calico Jack for the group. “Pirates are big right now,” she says, “and Calico Jack Rackham was a pirate who, according to some, came into the Bay back in the 1700s, so we can stay pretty close to the Bay theme yet still offer bluewater traditions like chanteys or forebitters.” Rackham was ultimately captured and hanged in the Caribbean, and his two lady friends, Anne Bonny and Mary Reid, are among the most celebrated of the lady pirates. It’s no accident that one of Meneely’s newest songs speculates on what ultimately became of the flamboyant Ms. Bonny: “They say she stole Black Caesar’s rig. . . .”
Sometimes serious, sometimes saucy, Calico Jack presents eelgrass music at its best.
Calico Jack Caption
Calico Jack is the dynamic folk duo of Janie Meneely and Paul DiBlasi, whose music celebrates the people, places and history of the Chesapeake. Singer/songwriter Janie Meneely delves deep into the well of Chesapeake lore to produce songs evocative of the waterman’s way of life, and her nautically inspired tunes have been recorded by artists throughout the country. Paul DiBlasi adds his powerful vocals, including a penchant for harmony, plus a strong hand on the guitar. “Sometimes serious, sometimes saucy, they slide easily between old and new,” says Annapolis Maritime Museum Director Jeff Holland. Janie's strong regional roots have led her to develop a hefty list of Bay-inspired songs that trace the history of the oyster industry or capture the tales told round a country store liar’s bench, but her ditties are just as apt to poke fun at time-honored traditions. Calico Jack is eelgrass at its best.
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Janie Meneely and Calico Jack have played in countless yacht clubs, museums, festivals, theaters, cockpits, power squadrons and Coast Guard auxiliaries throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Read more.