Minnesota Lumberjack Songs
Two Tap Records 014
Brian Miller dons the cap of singing folklorist on Minnesota Lumberjack Songs. He saws into several old songbooks and into the repertoires of source singers to give a fine cross-section of the Irish and Scottish songs that made their way to the north woods. Of special interest are shanties, the term referencing logging cabins, not the high seas, though sea song fans will recognize that ditties such as “Save Your Money When You’re Young” have saltwater variants. Ditto parallels to mining songs. There are numerous “come-all-ye” ballads reminiscent of miner songs, and “The Mines of Cariboo” makes a direct connection in spinning the tale of a lad who drifted between 19th-century gold camps and left behind songs that migrated to Minnesota. Miller is a strong singer and a masterful instrumentalist (bouzouki, guitar, flute, harmonium). He enlists fine backing musicians and harmony singers on the album, but accordions, fiddles, and whistles stay in the background, as they should for ballads and narrative songs. Miller sings boldly and clearly, never losing sight of the fact that the tales are on display, not virtuosity. My personal favorite on this thoughtful collection is “The Shanty-Boy’s Alphabet,” a whimsical walk through a worker’s worldview one letter at a time. But, really, each song is a gem. And I can’t help dreaming of a lumberjack double bill with Miller representing Minnesota and Lissa Schneckenburger doing the honors for the Northeast US and Canada.