Sea Lion Woman, or as it is alternatively known, See Line Woman, C-Lime Woman, See Lyin’ Woman (and more!) is a traditional southern African-American folk song dating at least back to sometime in the late 1800s. While it’s genesis is murky, it’s thought to have possibly originated as a Gullah children’s song. It’s first recording was in 1939 by American anthropologist and folklorist Herbert Halpert, as a field recording of two Misissippi girls, Christine and Katherine Shipp. The daughters of a sharecropping-minister father and a choir-director mother, their original haunting voices often find themselves these days sampled and woven into electronica songs.
One who truly recaptured it and made it her own was blues and jazz singer Nina Simone in 1964 (as See-Line Woman), so much so that it’s often mistakenly attributed to her. Her cover also added a signature percussive element that pretty much lays down the groundwork for all modern incarnations.
It recently enjoyed yet another revival in 2007 via indie darling Feist, who punctuated her version with rhythmic electronic bleeps and a rawkus guitar.
So today besides the Simone and Feist’s covers, we have a few more notable renditions. Playing favorites I’m going to lead with a couple of cuts by Manchester’s finest (and Factory Records first act) The Durutti Column AKA Vini Reilly, who drops the Shipp sisters into his electronic and guitar cuts. Giving it up to the ladies is stellar version by Brooklyn’s all-female Afrobeat outfit Femm Nameless. Other versions I’m also really digging is obscure 80s lo-fi post punk act Bona Dish. There were also some standout cuts by 60s Australian mod outfit The Easybeats, straight ahead jazz legend Yusef Lateef, indie Canucks The Constantines, as well as deep south-banjo version by the beardy Matt Bauer.
Not immune to Sea Lion‘s infectious rhythm is a set of great deep house cuts by The Songstress (AKA Kerri Chandler and Jerome Sydenham), Brandt & Chevallier (ft. Ian Simmonds), Margaret Grace, Wattie Green and The People Movers as well as a more Afro-house sounding one from Andrea Is A Male Name . Soundtrack composer du jour, for the likes of the Coen brothers and more, Carter Burwell builds a rather epic sounding cut for his The General’s Daughter soundtrack which also incorporates the ominous sounding Shipp recordings.
And lastly on the bluesier side is the swampy Istanbul Blues Kumpanyasi, Brian Kennedy, Arno feat The White Trash European Blues Connection, Magnus Carlsson and the Moon Ray Quintet, Ollabelle, Randy Crawford & Joe Sample and Rory Block.
The Durutti Column – Sea Line Woman
The Durutti Column – Sea Line Woman (Live BBC 2008)
Femm Nameless – See Line Woman
Bona Dish – Sea Line Woman
The Easybeats – See Line Woman
Yusef Lateef – Sea Line Woman
The Constantines – Sea Line Woman
Matt Bauer – Sea Lion Woman
Matt Bauer – Sea Lion Woman (Hinah session)
The Songstress (AKA Kerri Chandler and Jerome Sydenham) – Sea Line Woman
Brandt & Chevallier ft. Ian Simmonds – See Line Woman
Margaret Grace – See Line Woman
Wattie Green – Sea Lion Woman
The People Movers – C Lime Woman
Andrea Is A Male Name – See Line Woman 3D
Istanbul Blues Kumpanyasi – Sea Line Woman
Brian Kennedy – See Line Woman
Arno feat The White Trash European Blues Connection – See Line Woman
Magnus Carlsson and the Moon Ray Quintet – See Line Woman
Randy Crawford & Joe Sample – See Line Woman
Ollabelle – See Line Woman (Riverside Battle Songs version)
Ollabelle – See Line Woman (Before This Time version)
Rory Block – Sea Lion Woman
PS For the fortunate family of Thee Versions Galore Facebook Fanclub, have the original Shipp Sisters’ recording as well a a big grab bag of remixes and re-edits for you….