A Review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Marji Hazen
Great Lakes songs are made of hard work, hard living, hard weather, ships that go down and ships that come in. Sometimes an hour of Great Lakes songs is more than this out-of-shape landlubber can take at one sitting. Freshwater Highway has so much genuine history, so much variety in the arrangements, and such respect for the material that this disc has earned a place among those most listenable few we keep in a little crate next to the CD drive to lighten the more tedious computer chores.
Murdock obviously lavished thoughtful preparation and research on this album of traditional and contemporary Great Lakes chanteys, songs, and ballads. Credit is given to some of the most highly regarded authorities on the Lake Sailors and their music. Demonstrating his dedication to the preservation of contemporary Lakes lore, the modern lyrics are so appropriately chosen that you can't tell without the liner notes the traditional songs from the new. There's an amazing timelessness in this music that's not disturbed by the juxtaposition of Murdock's original song about the loss of the Coast Guard buoy tender Mesquite and Stephen Foster's Glendy Burke. A competent ensemble of folk instruments accompany both songs. The Ghost of Red Monroe, sung unaccompanied for two or three verses gradually accepts the support of a minimal guitar commentary. The arrangement couldn't be more appropriate for this long ballad's retelling of the sinking of the lake ship Chicago Board of Trade.
There's too much more to admire in this album to include it all here; but I must mention the marvelous Lakes-aware renditions of chanteys. Lakes sailors did not generally sing their chanteys with the very strong rhythms we are accustomed to hearing from the recreators of the ocean-going chanteys. To find a modern musician who appears to be aware of that difference in Lakes tradition is a real pleasure.
There's much history in the songs and it is enhanced by the fascinating liner notes. The album includes a complete printout of the lyrics that are not really necessary since every word is quite understandable due to excellent production. Murdock shines as a performer with respect for his audience as well as his material.
If you have someone on your New Years gift list who is interested in Great Lakes history, or just someone who enjoys very listenable traditional Northern U.S. folk ensemble music, Freshwater Highway would make a superb gift. Come to think of it, this album would sound great played aboard any vessel of the Great Lakes fleet.
Nice job, Lee. I'll be waiting for your next one. I also expect to see Freshwater Highway in all the Great Lakes museums and marinas where tourists come for souvenirs. If they don't stock the album, it's because they haven't heard about it.