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Various Artists - Down at the Sea Hotel

Down at the Sea Hotel

Various Artists

Secret Mountain - 2-923163-35-4

The Secret Mountain

Available from The Secret Mountain online store.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
(progdawg@hotmail.com)

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Rarely are precociously endearing CDs this beautiful. Down at the Sea Hotel is a collection of 14 lullabies written by rock luminaries (Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Jesse Winchester, Tom Waits, etc.), performed by even more luminaries (John Gorka, the Wailin' Jennys) and semi-luminaries (Eliza Gilkyson, Lucy Kaplansky, etc.). The label, Secret Mountain, produces gorgeous but simplistic kid's books that come accompanied by CDs. The graphic artists are stunningly good, and the music pristinely presented, warm and centered in a zone that will appeal to children and adults alike.

Windham Hill tried the straight-LP version of this in a series of spoken word/music releases years ago, graced by well-known actors, actresses (Robin Williams, Glenn Close, etc.), and top-notch musicians (George Winston, Will Ackerman, and so on). The results were…well, pretty often lukewarm, nothing even close to the caliber of what's presented here. Immense care went into the creation, production, packaging, and overall presentation of each combination release. This music anthology works marvelously as a showcase for it all. Unfortunately, Secret Mountain left out one not-so-small detail: no credits are given for the musicians behind the singers, and they're a tight and well-honed bunch much deserving ackowledgement.

When I need good fall-asleep music, I listen to Brian and Roger Eno's ambient works, Micky Newberry's In a New Age, the mellow side of Erik Satie, Plainsong (one of Iain Matthews' old bands), and other non-frantic discs, but this anthology now readily joins that short list of prestigiously soporific wonders. Perhaps the biggest surprise is this Guy Davis cat, on Midnight Lullaby a cross between a mild Anthony Newley, Chris Farlowe, touches of Louis Armstrong, and David Johannsen, though there's a surprising uniformity to all the songs included, perhaps due to the nature of the lullaby form.

The deeply American sound, vibe, and nature of this effort becomes a bit surprising when you realize that many of the artists and the label itself are Canadian. Quite often, those damn Canucks have been eating our lunch, and, frankly, I couldn't be happier when the result is this fine. If there's a cooperative like this in our own annals, I'm completely unaware of the fact while very strongly suspecting there isn't. Good. Maybe that'll kick-start our south of the border competitiveness. I hope so, because if we can ace our friends to the north on this one, that would be a wonder indeed.

One of the mellowest and, at the same time, most sparkling such amalgams of talent dedicated to a rather touching ambition, Down at the Sea Hotel is the most perfect offering of its kind in many a year.

Track List:

  • Down at the Sea Hotel (Greg Brown)
  • Midnight Lullaby (Tom Waits)
  • Dreamland (Mary Chapin Carpenter)
  • Barefoot Floors (Neil Young)
  • Midnight in Missoula (Nanci Griffith)
  • Do La Lay (Jesse Winchester)
  • Little Seahorse (Bruce Cockburn)
  • Goodnight, My Angel (Billy Joel)
  • Annabel (Henley / Corey)
  • Trick Rider (Gord Downie)
  • Everybody Cries (Jim Cuddy)
  • Child of Mine (Goffin / King)
  • Things We've Handed Down (Marc Cohn)
  • Nothing But a Child (Steve Earle)

Edited by: David N. Pyles
(dnpyles@acousticmusic.com)

Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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