P.O. Box 11
Kaneville, IL 60144-0011 USA
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Benjamin H. Cohen
This is an interesting collection of 14 songs of and about the Great Lakes and the men and women and boats who sailed them and kept their lighthouses. Half the songs are traditional; most of the the others are new songs by Murdock.
Those of us who live in Chicago are hardened to the news of misconduct by IRS agents, FBI agents, and politicians at every level from park districts on up that has been filling our papers lately, so it's strange to fall in love with a paean to a to a government employee. Lee Murdock has adapted an old poem about the U.S. Coast Guard's Life-Saving Service as a touching tribute to a group of selfless government employees whose "Regulations say we have to go out, but they don't say anything about coming back."
There's lots of lore about lighthouses, and Murdock recalls of some of it in his The Deep Blue Horizon and in Let the Lower Lights Keep Burning.
The German U-Boat U-505 is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The last I heard the Queen Elizabeth was a floating hotel in San Diego. Not all old boats find such resting places when their glory days are over. In his Queen of the Beach Murdock tells of the "Ella Doak," known derisively by that nickname by sailors because of her captain's propensity to put his vessel in peril, on the beach, in bringing in supplies. In Murdock's song, the Queen of the Beach relives her glory days.
Great Lakes songs are often about the mundane everyday work and the sailors' (and on this album, the lighthouse keepers’ and their spouses') delights -- or gripes. Hangin' Johnny was the enforcer who would hang his mother -- or scrimping owners. The Stomach Robber suggests that food on board at least one boat required the sailors to "take a reef in your stomach.” The Red Iron Ore mixes complaints about working conditions ("We looked like red devils our backs they got sore/And we cursed Escanaba and the red iron ore") with praise for the captain ("who had ought to stand treat/For getting us to Cleveland ahead of the fleet").
I've heard too many albums with back-up singers and instruments added to the point where the principal performer is overwhelmed and the words are lost. Here producers Murdock and Mark Karney blend a fine group of performers so that Murdock's smooth baritone is always at the forefront. Background vocals are by Liz Carson, Rich Prezosio and Jaquie Manning ("Small Potatoes"); chorus vocals are by Mark Dvorak, Russ Hurst, Don Stiernberg, and Rob Williams. The provide support without overwhelming Murdock's lead. Some songs are a capella. On We Have to Go Out Lee's 12- string guitar is supplemented by mandola, bass, dobro, harmonica, and mandolin without losing the lead line.
There's no "show stopper" here, just a solid selection of songs performed well.
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Edited by Kerry Dexter