Review of Harbor Nights CD

Reviewed by Joan Gilmore

Ken Bateman, classically trained musician and midwest sailor, has produced a wonderful CD that captures the essence of inland sailing and harborside conviviality. The featured instrument in this collection of original pieces is the English concertina.

When Bateman first discovered the instrument in an antique shop on the east coast, he decided it would be the perfect way to bring music along as he cruised with his family. Fitting into a case the size of a small hatbox, the instrument is perfect for tucking into a cubbyhole for a long ocean cruise. The sound is similar to but reedier than an accordian. The concertina is also able to sound like a harmonica or violin, when persuaded.

Bateman credits the Irish music group, Clannad and singer, Connie Dover as influences for his sound. The sound indeed incorporates the flavor of Irish country music, but gives it a midwestern spin through its clearly structured, balanced compositions that always end up exactly upon the note they started. This gives the music a very relaxing cadence. It’s perfect music for curling up by the fireside and dreaming of maritime adventures during long northern winter nights.

The first track, A Way In My Heart, has a plaintive, romantic sound. The use of instrumentals is evocative of Loreena McKennitt’s music. In Down Bound Again, a nice mixture of harmonizing voices makes reference to Red Cliff and LaPointe in the Apostle Islands area of Lake Superior. Water’s Edge is folksey yet sophisticated, with a haunting, catchy melody. The track begins and ends with background gentle waves lapping and seagull calls. Throughout the recording, the sound quality is excellent and the tracks well balanced. Repeated listening brings out different instruments in the layers of harmonies between piano, violin, bass, guitar, keyboard, concertina and an occasional snare drum. Harbor Waltz (Instrumental in F) has the emotionality but not the complexity of baroque sacred music. It is a well-structured piece with concertina, piano, bass and violin. When I Dreamt Beneath the Storm is a sea chantey of a ghost ship chasing the Bateman sloop, North Light. Half of the tracks are instrumental only. Concertina Waltz (Instrumental Solo in F) has the sound of a lone organ grinder unwinding a haunting melody. The use of the concertina as percussion gives this piece a bit of an old world “oompa” sound. This piece really demonstrates the flexibility and range of the English concertina.

Bateman, born and bred in the midwest, studied musical composition at the University of Minnesota. This CD is a true family effort, with his son, Brian playing the bass, and son, Kenny on the guitar. His wife, Elizabeth also contributes some of the vocals. But all of the writing and most of the sound comes from Bateman himself, taking to the piano and violin as easily as he spins a chantey with his easy, relaxed vocals and the facile concertina.
The lyrics included with the CD are presented on a background of chart images from Lake Superior, Lake Pepin, and Puget Sound, the Batemans’ favorite cruising grounds.

This is Bateman’s first CD. Thoughtful and well-crafted, it can both rock a homesick sailor to sleep and send an earthbound sailor’s soul cruising.

You may order Harbor Nights for $15 (shipping and handling included) by calling 651-463-4866 or emailing Bateman at