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The Sun Upon the Lake Is Low

Mae Robertson and Don Jackson

(0-964-49164-3-6)

Lyric Partners: Music for Home
75 Prospect Avenue
Larchmont, NY 10538-3634
(800) 985-8894

A review written for the Folk and Music Exchange
by Jim Dubinsky
(dubinsj@muohio.edu)

The Sun Upon the Lake is brimming with the poetry of song. Mae Robertson and Don Jackson bring together highly qualified and professional accompanists, including William Jackson on Celtic harp and Abby Newton on cello, to create this soothing and serene CD.

This CD is Robertson and Jackson's second collection of folk songs for Lyric Partners' Music for Home series. Having worked many years singing at weddings and at local coffeehouses for fun, Mae Robertson achieved national prominence when she collaborated with Don Jackson, her childhood friend, to create All Through the Night, a collection of lullabies and love songs that Jackson produced. Featured in The New York Times, their first CD also made the American Library Association's 1995 list of Notable Children's Recordings.

Now they've done it again with The Sun Upon the Lake. Written to appeal to the entire family, this warm and nurturing selection of traditional and contemporary folk music focuses on conveying "honest and insightful messages about life and living." As another reviewer said, this is "good music whether you have children or not."

There are fifteen selections on this CD--five traditional tunes, four familiar contemporary songs from the likes of Bill Staines, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell, and some little known ones too, such as the title tune, a take-off of a Robert Burns poem often sung "by the campers of the Aloha Camps in Fairlee, VT." I liked the variety, the consistent quality of the arrangements, and the intimate harmony of Mae and Don's voices.

My favorite song is their version of Donagh Long's Never Be the Sun. What's particularly nice is that they don't imitate Dolores Keane's version. Instead they create a version that is lyrical and resonant with braided harmonies. Mae handles lead vocals, with Don's voice interwoven. The vocal harmony is also echoed by the lacing together of guitar, cello and fiddle. The result is a compelling mother-to-child love song, in which the mother recognizes her child's human limitations, all the while claiming that "even on the deepest ocean, [she] will be the light." The firm, unequivocal statement of family love and support appears in other songs as well (Child of Mine, Feet of the Dancer, Storms are on the Ocean), creating a well of strength for listeners to draw from.

The pristine clarity of the knowledge that comes from experience is presented beautifully and simply in their interpretation of Joni Mitchell's Circle Game and their renditions of both Yeat's Down by the Salley Gardens and the traditional Come All Ye Fair and Tender Maidens. In these gems, the quiet nature of their unaffected phrasing works best. The exceedingly lovely instrumental Gaelic Lullaby and lovely use of whistles by Mr. William Jackson's in Wild Mountain Thyme are other highlights.

My only quibble is with their understated version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. This spiritual's joyous pronouncement of faith seems less powerful than in other interpretations. Perhaps it is the slightly reduced emphasis on the vocals. It might also be the result of their decision to use the pedal steel, which seems out-of-place here.

That said, I can tell you that everyone who has heard this CD has loved it, and I imagine that I'll be playing it often for my four children (if they can get me to take it off my computer's CD player). I recommend it highly as a way to introduce children to our folk heritage, which is rich with poetry, and as a great gift for friends who might like a quiet, contemplative album, filled with excellent musicianship.

Song List

  • Child of Mine (Bill Staines)
  • Come All Ye Fair and Tender Maidens (Traditional)
  • Storms Are On the Ocean (A. P. Carter)
  • Feet of a Dancer (Charlie McGetigan)
  • Michael Row the Boat Ashore (Traditional)
  • Never Be the Sun (Donagh Long)
  • Wild Mountain Thyme (Traditional)
  • Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (Traditional)
  • The Circle Game (Joni Mitchell)
  • Down by the Salley Garden (W. B. Yeats)
  • Hush While the Little Ones Sleep (Lotus Dickey)
  • Gaelic Lullaby (Traditional)
  • Irish Heartbeat (Van Morrison)
  • The Sun Upon the Lake is Low (The Aloha Foundation)
  • Sitting in the Stern of a Boat (Rev. William McLeod)

Edited by Ky Hote

Copyright 1998, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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