Tedd Browne: Lake George Musical Portrait

By: Tim Dwenger

In 1968, a young black folksinger named Tedd Browne became a casualty of our nation’s long battle with racism when Richard Robbins, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, shot him dead in a random act of racially motivated violence. Browne was just 39 years old.

Though this tragic event silenced a creative mind and his musical legacy has never received the attention it deserves, one man is trying to change that. More than 30 years since Browne’s albums went out of print, Schenectady, New York musician and longtime Tedd Browne fan Mark Mason has decided to make it his project to revive Browne’s work and make it available to a whole new generation.

Mason sought out, and teamed with, Larry DeVivo of Silvertone Mastering to tackle the project beginning with Browne’s Musical Portrait of Lake George (Weedgie Music). The pair tracked down several copies of the original vinyl release and DeVivo was able to remaster the album from those sources. The resulting CD sounds exceptional and retains the classically warm sound of the vinyl it was originally released on back in 1964.

Browne was largely known as a historical singer-songwriter and this album paints a vivid and historically accurate picture of the upstate New York vacation paradise. Browne captured the lake region’s rich history as a pivotal battleground in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution with songs like “Fort William Henry,” “Ethan Allen” and “Fort Ticonderoga,” while also looking at tourist industry that the lake is known for today with “Lake George Steamboats” and the lighthearted closer “Holiday.”

Throughout the record, fans of ’60s folk music will catch themselves wondering why Browne never got more attention. His resonate baritone voice carries with it a weight that is both soul stirring and instantly recognizable. The haunting first lines of “The Lumberjack” are reminiscent of folk and calypso legend Harry Bellefonte, while on “Father Jogues” Browne tells the story of the discovery of the lake and his voice takes on a transcendently spiritual tone.

Browne’s vocals and guitar are joined on the album by Arlo Guthrie collaborator Tom McGoodwin on banjo and Spike Lee’s father, Bill Lee, on the bass. Together the three men deftly stretch the limits of folk, bluegrass and blues as they share simple story songs that ring with truth that flowed freely from the pen of one of America’s great forgotten folk singers.

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