Songs of the Past, or, a (D)early Departed CD Review

Yes, I am being cheap and re-posting this review. What can I say, today feels like a perfect Portland Autumn and it puts me in a good mood.  Since I’ve been re-discovering this glorious album all morning, I thought I’d re-post the review for anyone new to the site. Promise, I’ll get back to normal tomorrow…

Sometimes I sit back in amazement when I realize just how many talented people call Portland their home. Sure, there is some local bias rearing its prideful head, but you can’t deny that Portland just overflows with people that tell beautiful tales in song. If you truly need proof, look no further than the recently released album (D)early Departed – True Lies in Song Unearthed from Lone Fir Cemetery. This collection of songs is the brainchild of Kate Sokoloff and the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery. 15 local Portland musicians accepted a “simple” request; choose one of Portland’s famous (and infamous) residents of Lone Fir and compose a song about their life and even their death. What followed was a collection of songs that will fast become required listening for anyone with an interest in Portland’s past or a simple love of folksy ballads of a bygone era.

The songs run the gamut from joy to sadness and all the places in between…From the opening harmonies of Matt Sheehy’s “Through Your Bones”, you know you are in for haunting tales. His tale of Chinese immigrants that built our city, but never found rest with their ancestors is not only a gorgeous song, but also the sole reason this album exists. Too long, have these bones resided in the cold dirt with nary a marker of their lives. A portion of the proceeds from this album will attempt to rectify this injustice.

Hero, villain, and the grey area of life in between receive equal treatment on this album. The listener moves from the heroic tale of a firefighter that gave his life to defend the city from a raging inferno. To the tragic tale of a well-loved prostitute that met an untimely and grizzly end. Such is the influence of the talented artists behind this album that you find yourself feeling the pain of loss of a so-called “immoral lawbreaker”.

It is fitting that Dr. John Hawthorne receives a song, though not about him, but his work and the home he built for Portland’s most fragile. In “A Home, A House, An Institution, A Love, A Death, and Another Death”, you understand the impact this man had on Portland. A fact reinforced when you discover many of the inmates under Dr. Hawthorne’s care took their final rest at Lone Fir Cemetery, at his personal cost. His hospital again receives a mention in the song, “Asylum Road” by Storm Large. Telling the tale of Charity Lamb, her powerful ballad not only tells the tale of Portland’s own Lizzie Borden, but also asks how far you would go to be free.

Still, not all the tales are of pain and sadness. True, many of the subjects within (D)early Departed lived hard and often unfair lives, but there is hope in these songs. A reminder that even in death ones story may yet continue; such is the case “Inebriate Waltz” and “Age Blues for Rodney Morris”. With “Inebriate Waltz”, we hear the tale of Portland’s most famous poet, Samuel Simpson of Beautiful Wilmette, a tale of a poet that wanted people to look beyond his one famous poem. “Age Blues for Rodney Morris” tells the story of a young and pious man that gave his life to save others. In this song, he finally gets the credit he never asked nor received.

Although the album hit the shelves near the Halloween season and does have a rather morbid appeal, you’ll find it staying in rotation long after the leaves return to the trees.

Filled with fantastic lyrics and stunning voices, (D)early Departed – True Lies in Song Unearthed from Lone Fir Cemetery is simply one of best releases of the year. Being a Portlander never sounded sweeter.

You can pick up the CD at Music Millennium or order directly at CD Baby. You can learn more about the people behind the songs and the Lone Fir Cemetery by going to Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery.

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