Don Merckle – The Ballad of Lincoln Wray
Jangly Records – 2017
A seven-track EP inspired by but not necessarily about his grandfather and his exploits in the Korean War, Don Merckle mostly reins in his usual rock n roll approach for a reflection on war and those who fight in it as seen through the story of its fictional title character. Embellished with trumpet and sax, it begins with the meditatively melodic title track, detailing Wray, a young Vermont-born poor boy, picking up his rifle and setting off from the farm for an unidentified war, fighting in the hellfire of the mountains and the streams.
The song’s later reprised in its original acoustic form, as indeed is the second track, Cold Cold War, a song that finds the narrator, a wounded man “decorated with pain”, thinking of a lover “half a World away” whose light keeps him together. Both approaches are equally effective.
North Carolina is a briskly strummed, horns blazing, Guthrie-like portrait of a girl from the titular hills, the “youngest of fourteen”, the brother who, back from the war with his nerves shattered, found peace in teaching her to read and write, and the life and struggles of her parents, before moving to Maryland and winding up in an abusive marriage.
Introducing a country blues note, Follow Me Boys finds an army recruiter encouraging perhaps the mountain-side neighbours of the girl from the previous song to join up and get away from a dead-end life, but making no promises other than to steel their courage and “follow me to our doom.”
The last number, My Lord, My Lord, is an urgent dose of horns blasting barroom gospel boogie with some throaty electric guitar and crashing drums, winding up a short but highly effective and, for many, resonant portrait of the experiences and feelings of those called to do their duty and for whom war seemed to offer the only escape from hard times.
Order The Ballad of Lincoln Wray here: https://janglyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-ballad-of-lincoln-wray