Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Listening booth: Child ballads for a new millenium

Ever since I blurbed an advance copy of Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer's Child Ballads I have been longing to share it with you, and now it's in stock! The first thing that strikes one are the fabulous woodcut-like illustrations of these vivid song-stories. By Peter Nevins, there is one CD-sized graphic for each one, included inside as an accordion foldout. You can hear Mitchell and Hamer perform "Tam Lin" (illustrated below right) live in this duet from a Folk Alliance International Conference and "Willie's Lady" on the BBC World Service. I find them just spellbinding.
The next song is "Geordie" (above left) probably best known because of Joan Baez's recording. Her version is etched in my memory, but this one gives it a run for the money. 

"I just fell in love with the stories," Mitchell told The Guardian. "They're so beautiful, so strange and weird. That's the poetry of it. When I met Jefferson we decided it would be cool to do them ourselves. As outsiders we had some trepidation, but they're very hardy songs. They have weathered centuries." As a bit of background, The Guardian helpfully provides a sampler of Child ballads as performed by Harry Belafonte, Doc Watson, Fairport Convention, and Joan Baez. "While there are other significant traditional song collections, the influence of Child's is impossible to overstate" they write. "Since the folk revival of the 1950s they have been sung and recorded by every notable traditional musician, from Joan Baez to Nic Jones, and adapted by folk-rock pioneers including Steeleye Span and Pentangle. Fairport Convention did extraordinary things with Tam Lin and Sir Patrick Spens [above right]. Bob Dylan not only sang several Child Ballads, including Barbara Allen, but used them as prototypes for his own songs. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall derives its haunting imagery and question-and-answer structure from Lord Randall." [Below, "Willie o Winsbury" and "Willie's Lady"]
"Clyde's Water"

7 comments:

  1. I want, nay, I need to know the story behind these great woodcut art pieces included in the album.

    That "Geordie" is quite a track. I'm not familiar with the original, but this one is good enough to be it. Thanks for the link.

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  2. I'll bet you could google him. He won a Grammy for the artwork for their previous album.

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  3. Interesting reversible image on the illustration for Geordie. The British folk music tradition is new to me. Thanks for the sample.

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    1. Very cool! I didn't even notice that until I read your comment! Now my eyes can't make up their mind!! I defaulted to seeing the face that is facing to the left (looks more masculine).

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    2. I still don't see it!

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    3. I didn't see it either until you pointed it out!

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  4. People not from northern New England may be unfamiliar with Vermonter Anais Mitchell, who is pretty much irresistible both personally and musically. The cultured folks who follow The Daily Glean might also enjoy Hadestown, Mitchell’s acclaimed 2010 folk opera based on the story of Orpheus.

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