[UNDERGROUND MUSIC] Creative sparks come in the strangest places, and several local songwriters recently found macabre inspiration in one of Southeast Portland’s oldest and most beautiful spots, Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery (est. 1855). An enchanting new collection titled (D)early Departed: True Lies in Song Unearthed from Lone Fir Cemetery gathers tracks by some of Portland’s finest folk-pop songwriters, each imagining the life—and relating the death—of a resident of the historic burial ground.
The concept came to creator Kate Sokoloff, who co-produces Live Wire! radio, in conversation with her friend Mary Miller of Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery. Sokoloff was mourning the late, lamented Night of the Murder Ballad, a now-defunct circa-Halloween tradition, when the idea of local artists recording original spooky songs to benefit Portland’s original spooky space arose like an apparition.
The compilation is a rare apparition, at that—a benefit album where musicians actually got paid. “Artists are always asked to contribute their time, labor, craft for free—and they’re usually the ones who can least afford to,” explains Sokoloff. Most “tribute”-type projects just require learning somebody else’s song. Here, folks wrote to order, picking an Ore-goner and researching the circumstances of his or her demise. The songwriters could concoct a life story, says Sokoloff, “as long as they got the actual death right.”
Some of the artists on (D)early Departed (the parentheses reference the subjects’ untimely deaths) deserve extra credit, then, for closer adherence to biographical facts. Glam-cabaret star Storm Large details domestic abuse suffered by Charity Lamb, to explain the spousal ax murder in “Asylum Road”—composed at the graveyard itself. And Holcombe Waller and Ben Landsverk tenderly convey the story of another close male friendship, that of William Evans and Dr. John Wells. Members of Stolen Sweets, Amelia, and Loch Lomond also contribute. But the last word goes to Stumptown stalwart Pete Krebs, whose rollicking tale of unfortunate drunk “Michael Mitchell” slams the lid shut on this unique album, wherein the dead get new life and Portland’s pioneer past meets its pioneering musical present.
SEE IT: Storm Large, Amelia, Jim Brunberg, Ritchie Young, the Taciturns and more play songs from (D)early Departed at the Dour Fir, Friday, Oct. 24. 9 pm. $15. 21+.