various artists,
Down at the Sea Hotel
(Secret Mountain, 2007)

This is an enjoyable recording but, at least initially, a misleading one. From the cover, an illustration from a book (based on Greg Brown's title song, surely inspired by the Beatles' "Octopus' Garden") for small children, one naturally assumes that this is an album intended for that audience. Well, it turns out, not exactly. Actually, it's for parents of little kids.

Though Down at the Sea Hotel is on a Canadian imprint, the artists are associated with the Minnesota-based Red House label. All will be familiar to those who follow folk-oriented singer-songwriters: Lucy Kaplansky, the Wailin' Jennys, John Gorka, Guy Davis, Eliza Gilkyson and Lynn Miles. Nobody is singing his or her own song, but picking up pieces from colleagues Bruce Cockburn, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tom Waits and Jesse Winchester as well as pop stalwarts Goffin/King, Billy Joel and the Eagles. The songs are heart-tuggingly melodic, each performed in an accessible acoustic folk-pop arrangement.

I am most enamored of Gilkyson's two contributions (Griffith's "Midnight in Missoula" and Goffin/King's "Child of Mine") not because her songs are superior to anybody else's but because I love her singing so much. I am duly grateful, however, that Gorka has reminded me of "Do La Lay," a lovely, uneasy meditation on the father/infant relationship. I used to listen to Winchester's original when my own children were new to the world. Are there any truer songs on the subject? Not many.

Some of the proceeds of this album will go to the Breast Cancer Fund. Good music, good cause -- no complaints here.

review by
Jerome Clark

12 January 2008

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