There’s a new child in the musical family tree of communities on livejournal that originated with my old comm, Audiogasms. Audiogasms begat Audiography, which in turn begat Balladeers. Balladeers is mostly devoted to folk ballads, but also features Celtic and other narrative forms of music. The theme there this week is “Strange Fellows”, or outsiders. Below are my contributions.
I love folk music, both traditional and modern and all the variations of the genre (including “anti-folk”). Unfortunately, I don’t have very much traditional folk music in my mp3 collection. Most of what I have in that genre is on tapes. Old, overplayed, crackly tapes. So hopefully you’ll excuse my stretching of the folk and ballad boundaries here. Some of these songs do fit into the folk ballad genre quite well. Others are typically thought of as belonging to other musical categories, but I’m including them because I feel they fit with this particular theme, and also because I think that these songs possess a storytelling quality that is similar to classic folk songs.
This was the first song I thought of when I saw the theme. Though “Wayfaring Stranger” is a traditional folk ballad that leans more toward the spiritual/religious side, when I first heard it as a child, I just thought it was about a stranger. It’s such a simple, beautiful song, that it sounds good sung by just about any kind of artist.
Though Johnny Cash and Neko Case both do justice to this song in their own ways, Laura Love’s version is probably my favourite. I feel her voice infuses the song with power and emotion. If you are unfamiliar with Laura Love, I highly recommend buying her albums. Particularly Octoroon and The Laura Love Collection, which is a greatest hits of sorts. She describes her sound as “Afro-Celt”, and I guess that’s an appropriate description. As are folk, anti-folk, celtic, indie, and alterna-country. Laura plays bass and has one of the most unusual and affecting voices I’ve ever heard. She is amazing in concert, so catch her on tour if you can.
As I recall, Joan Baez wrote this song about her affair with Bob Dylan back in the day. And I think he’s a bit of a strange fellow. Here I offer the original by Baez, which is my favourite of her songs (along with “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer”), and a slightly Gothic cover by Blackmore’s Night.
The original by June Carter Cash and her family, and the cover by Reese Witherspoon that’s featured in the new film, I Walk The Line. I feel it fits here because of the lyrics, which conjure up the image of a free spirited girl with flowers in her hair, and also because of the unusual pairing of June Carter and outside Johnny Cash.
I don’t know much about Shenanigan, except they are a Canadian band. “Muruche” is a apparently a variation of the Irish word “Muruch”, which traditionally referred to a mermaid or selkie. Obviously I like the name. 🙂 Shenanigan seems to be using the word in the selkie sense, as this is a haunting ballad about a woman mourning for her selkie lover. Selkies were mythical creatures, much like mermaids, who resembled seals when in the ocean, but could shed their skin and take on human form.
Loreena McKennitt set the words of Alfred Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott to music, and this is the result. Another haunting song about a woman filled with longing, this time for the outside world that she can only view by reflection in her mirror.
Joan Osborne is best known for the one-hit wonder of “One of Us”, but the rest of her catalogue is quite bluesy and soulful. This is a song from her excellent debut album Relish, and it was written by Bob Dylan. The lyrics tell of a woman who disappeared with the man of the title.
I first heard this song years ago on a mixtape from a friend, which was given to me shortly after my wedding. So I can’t help but identify with the strange girl of the lyrics and the boy who loved her. It’s a very pretty song.
Another song about a strange girl that I first heard on the above mentioned mixtape. “She walks alone, she talks alone, people stop and stare.” I think the lyrics speak for themselves as to why I felt it was appropriate for this theme.
Ok, so this is one of the songs that doesn’t quite fit into this community’s general genre, but it definitely fits with the theme. Don McLean wrote this after reading a book about the life of artist Vincent Van Gogh. It’s pretty much an ode to that particular strange fellow.
Not quite a ballad, but Gretchen Peters’ music definitely has some folk roots in it. She is sadly overlooked as a singer, and is better known as the songwriter behind many of Martina McBride’s hits. This song is about a lonely girl who works in a travelling circus.
Another not quite a ballad, but it is about a strange old woman who likes to poison her guests with Belladonna in their coffee.
I think The Decemberists represent the future of folk music. Many of their songs have that wonderful narrative quality that is very rare in modern music. This is a sweet, languid song about a girl named Clementine who, among other things, sleeps in her overalls.
Dar Williams is another modern folk artist that carries on the story in song tradition. “When I Was a Boy” is both a song about longing for the innocent days of youth, and resisting the pressure to conform to the gender stereotypes of adulthood.
This is a simple, sorrowfully beautiful little tune sung from the perspective of a child living in a house of domestic violence. The outsider in this case is her mother’s abusive boyfriend.
This is a country song, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s more of a traditional country song in that it tells the story of a young rebellious man who leaves home, gets into some trouble as an outsider in a strange town, and finds himself on death row.
This song may be more about haunting memories rather than a literal ghost, but still. It’s a pretty duet between former Throwing Muses front woman, Kristen Hersh, and REM’s Michael Stipe.
Hannah Fury – It Was Her House That Killed Nessarose (right click)
Right click & save on this one, it’s a free download from Hannah Fury’s site. Before there was the musical Wicked, Hannah wrote this song and others that were inspired by Gregory Maguire’s novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It was a modern, dark sequel to The Wizard of Oz, retelling the events of the classic children’s book from the point of view of the Witch. It’s one of my favourite novels, so I couldn’t help loving this song. Sung from the perspective of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West), it expresses the character’s grief over the death of her sister, Nessarose, by Dorothy’s fallen house and her resulting distrust of Dorothy.
Indie-folk? The sweet, dulcet tones of Sufjan Stevens make this ballad about serial killer John Wayne Gacy even more creepy than it would be otherwise.
Another indie-folk boy with guitar, Patrick Wolf is somewhat of a strange fellow himself. When he first emerged, his biography was speckled with fairytale-like anecdotes. His voice reminds me of Jeff Buckley sometimes, alternating between a resonating depth and a soaring howl. He plays a variety of instruments, including guitar, violin, harp, harpsicord, accordion, and ukelele. His music and lyrics seem inspired by traditional Irish and English folk music. “The Libertine” lyrics mentioned several strange fellows, including a wanderer, traveller, troubadour, circus girl, hitchhiker, pirate, magician, preacher, and of course, a libertine.
Belly were an alternative band in the 1990s, lead by Tanya Donnelly (former member of Throwing Muses and half-sister of Kristen Hersh). Their debut album, Star, remains a favourite of mine. The album was an unusually eccentric sound in the 90s, much like Bjork’s Debut and Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. “Untogether” tells of a girl who tells outrageous stories and a shipwrecked frog, among other things.
An acoustic ballad cover of the Tears for Fears song, recorded for the film, Donnie Darko. Sung from the viewpoint of a depressed, possibly suicidal boy who obviously feels like an outcast in his school.
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