Album Review of Ecorse Creek Orchestra: Tales From the Water Shed
Ecorse Creek Orchestra is the pseudonym for Detroit-based singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Dean Carls. This is the second release for ECO, following the debut EP Get Your Voodoo On. This is a diverse album rooted in quirky folk tales, amusing personal observations and avant-garde tunes.
“March of the Pandemic Shut-In” emerges on the scene as a semi-classical piano-based overture. The introduction of background TV and radio static and news reports reveal Carls’ wry sense of humor and commentary on what many humans have assuredly felt being inundated by all forms of media during quarantine and lockdown.
“Run Runaway” contains a Tom Waits-type growl fueled by a punchy horn chart. The story line seems to address the life of someone named Jackie who is trying to get one over on the mob. It’s got a very noir-like feel, with a moral that simply states “crime doesn’t pay!“
“I Spy, You Spy” is ripped right from today’s headlines. In these precarious times of Russian election interference and online hacking, Carls lays out a message that’s pretty straightforward, “These days it’s all too easy… I can get what I want through technology. I’m intruding on your privacy… I’ll watch you through your laptop, I’ll watch you through your phone, I’ll know when you’re at work and I’ll know when you’re at home.”
Carls dives into little-known history for a story about famed magician Harry Houdini in the song “Rosabelle Believe.” In it, the singer/composer details a tale of the magician and his wife Bess. Apparently he promised her that when he died he would try to communicate with her from the afterlife. And if he did contact her he would utter the title of a song that was the couple’s favorite known as “Rosabelle.” It’s got this gothic atmosphere, delivered by Carls, that gives it a slightly chilling effect.
“Let’s Go Let’s Go” shifts gears completely, with a track that has an upbeat early rock ‘n roll vibe. It’s got a repetitive chorus that indelibly hooks your ear. But then it throws a curve in the mid-section, with an odd time signature and tempo shift.
Hang on, because the song “Jolly Old Man” will hit you with something out of left field, yet again. Carls’ humor comes from all angles, and his ability to change his vocal sound and demeanor makes him a clever and formidable melodic chameleon. Here he takes the persona of some character right out of U.K. central casting, with the lines, “I’m just a Jolly Old Man, living in a manufactured can… I eat my din out of a tin… My body’s 90% sodium.” And the chorus hook will lull you into a trance, “But I like you and you like me and I like you and you like me and you.” Fans of Kevin Ayers, Monty Python, The Bonzo Dog Band and Abbey Road-era Beatles might get a kick out of this one.
“Party in the Backyard” follows and continues that deep cheeky humor that Carls cleverly places throughout. Again, he shifts his voice into a lower register to mimic a pretty convincing Jim Morrison-like cadence. The lyrics depict all aspects of a major house party in progress, complete with background crowd noise and some killer guitarwork. Pay attention, because in the middle of this tune Carls does a hilarious take-off on a Cheech and Chong-type bit that, when the cops are called for civil disturbance, the boys in blue get bamboozled by some fast talk. It’s a crazy track!
And then, from the ridiculous to the sublime, the album concludes with a somber tune dedicated to one of the most heinous race-related murders in history, “Emmett Till.” Till was a young black kid from Chicago who traveled through the southern U.S. to visit his uncle. He was murdered by a group of racists in 1955. Carls is joined by Australian Pink Floyd vocalist Emily Lynn who adds considerable melodic weight and drama to this heavy and sobering message. Carls sings, “They say he whistled at a white woman, but that ain’t no excuse… For taking a 14 year old boy’s life… His killers deserved the noose.” And the chorus chants “Crosses in Mississippi were burning, yet the world keeps turning… A country stood aside ignoring… But Emmett Till we won’t forget you.”
“I wanted to be true to the album title and make each song a tale of its own,” says Carls. “Some of the inspiration I drew from Johnny Cash’s songwriting because when you’re done listening to a Johnny Cash song, you know what the story of the song was about.”