Weaving its way through time, the album begins with an overture of sorts ("The Sailor & the Stenographer"), describing the love and life of William D'Cruze (Glenn's father) and the subject matter the audience will be familiarized with over the course of the album. The song features a cameo by Stuart David (Belle & Sebastian) speaking as a gale warning and shipping forecaster advising all to avoid stormy seas. The album follows a roughly chronological order and the songs are titled by setting, theme and situation, which is helpful, as many of the instrumental tracks require exposition for narrative's sake.
The sweet and light "Don't Want Someone Else" portrays protagonist William D'Cruze as a shy young man falling in love — he laments that "I lose my voice when you say hi; I don't want no one else if I can't have you" as horns follow suit and match the vocal melody. The horn section is ever present throughout My Father Was a Sailor, providing jazzy interludes between lyrics and often playing a starring role in the composition, reflecting the temporal setting of the piece.
A 14-person choir is present on the majority of songs accompanying D'Cruze, which is why "Spiral into the Sea," which begins with a solitary D'Cruze in a lead, is so poignant. Even when joined by the choir, D'Cruze's voice takes a predominant role, reinforcing the revelatory message of the singer: "Be thankful for all that you've got, don't worry about all you have not, for one day gravity won't fail and we'll spiral into the sea."
Healing becomes a major theme for the rest of the album, as evidenced by the reconciliatory feel of "No More Stormy Seas," in which he speaks for his father: "Son, you should hear these bells of heaven ring." A better place awaits, and before the end of the album, Stuart David provides a calm forecast with a sendoff of "Good night gentlemen, and good sailing."
My Father Was a Sailor represents Glenn D'Cruze's therapy and reconciliation with mortality. The musical memorial of his late father occupies that middle ground between sadness and beauty, and will be touchingly familiar to everyone who has lost someone. If only we could all honour the lost this well. (Anniedale)