“With skin so fair and auburn hair / Sun and sea shone bright in her eyes.”
That’s part of the lyrical description of Anacortes legend Cannery Kate found on the debut album from local folk band Cannery Underground.
The song, “Cannery Row,” was written by Tim Wittman of Guemes Island. The description continues: “She was every man’s wish / Smelled of fresh-caught fish / Touched my heart right through to my soul.”
The poignant and lively lyrics, sung over strums and picks from acoustic guitar and bass, are typical of the CD named for the legendary character.
The songs on “Cannery Kate” were written and arranged by Wittman and his other half on Cannery Underground, Anacortes’ Dave Perkins. Songs such as “Sweet Wawona,” “Yodeling Fishermen” and “We Only Travel at Night” are centered around maritime folklore, and they pay homage to a diverse cast of characters, from the working men and women who built Anacortes, to Prohibition-era smugglers who brought liquor by sea from Canada to Washington and down the West Coast.
“You’ll hear a word or a line somewhere,” Wittman said. “Maybe I was reading a book or lying in bed. Then I sat down with my guitar and started.”
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The music is a blend of acoustic rock and folk with a strong dose of melancholy. The duo shares the vocals, with Wittman on guitar and Perkins on bass.
The instruments provide a buoyant background while the lyrics take each song deeper, exploring regional nautical subjects with humor, energy, a historical perspective and crisp imagery.
Wittman said he writes the lyrics and the music together, not one then the other. He started writing songs in earnest in 2008 and those songs became “Cannery Kate.”
The Skagit County Historical Museum will host a CD release party for Cannery Underground at 5 p.m. Saturday as part of the museum’s membership drive.
Executive Director Clark McAbee said the museum is excited to have Wittman and Perkins back for the performance.
“They have been at one of our previous events, and they were enthusiastically received,” McAbee said.
Wittman and Perkins started planning for the CD in 2011, and things finally came together this summer. They teamed up with Pam and Greg Hobson and their daughters Tessa and Ana for help with vocals, upright bass and fiddle accompaniment. They recorded at Binary Recording Studio in Bellingham in July.
Wittman said scheduling all the musicians with the studio was the most difficult part, but once everyone was there, things went smoothly.
“We did the whole thing in one day,” Wittman said.
Wittman and Perkins first performed together in the late 1960s. They both performed music for the last 40 years, in different capacities, then came back together last year as Cannery Underground. Wittman said when they got together they meshed well and thought the same way about their songs and performances.
“It was like 1968 all over again,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just like magic.”
Wittman, a psychologist in the Burlington-Edison School District, said he and Perkins, whose day job is in the floor covering industry, are able to blend their voices well and create attractive harmonies.
In the last two years they have performed shows in Anacortes and on Guemes, but also throughout Skagit County and as far away as Seattle and Port Gamble.
When they’re up on stage, the duo performs their own songs along with a mix of cover songs written by artists who have influenced their music: Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle, The Byrds and Johnny Cash.
With one album under their belts, Cannery Underground is already working on songs for their next CD. Perkins said he’s excited about two songs he’s working on: one based on a Robert Service poem and the other based on a true story of bootleggers on a fishing boat in the Bering Sea.
Wittman is working on a song about a shipwreck off San Juan Island, among others.
CD release party
• Skagit County Historical Museum, 501 S Fourth St.. La Conner
• Noon-4 p.m. Saturday: Celebrate Skagit Harvest Time with an old-time cider pressing, popcorn, face painting and games.
• 5-7 p.m. Saturday: Release party for Cannery Underground’s CD, “Cannery Kate.” Museum Membership Drive.
• Admission: $4 adults, $8 families, $3 seniors and children 6-12. Members and children under 6 years are free.
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