“Victim or the Crime”

Introduction – “Victim or the Crime” It is human to feel like a victim when suffering arrives.  Traditional ballads almost always place such emotion within a dualistic worldview.  There is good and evil – and a clear, if thin, line between.  Today, though, we tend to see such things in … → read more

There’s a train a-coming: “People Get Ready” – CwD10

Curtis Mayfield (uncredited image, source: official Mayfield Facebook page)

“I would think that a movement without music would crumble. Music picks up people’s spirits. Anytime you can get something that lifts your spirits and also speaks to the reality of your life, even the reality of oppression, and at the same time is talking about how you can really … → read more

Heaven, Hell, and Everyday Heroes: “Guns of Umpqua”

Drive-By Truckers (Matt Patton, Brad Morgan, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Jay Gonzalez) photo credit: Danny Clinch

“A stunningly beautiful autumn morning” Bob Boilen’s “Tiny Desk Concert” series introduced me to the Drive-By Truckers song “Guns of Umpqua.” The song grabbed me right away with the warm bounce of the acoustic guitar before the “lights came up” on the band. Lead singer Patterson Hood begins painting the scene … → read more

How Legends Are Made: Stan Rogers, “The Flowers of Bermuda,” and Air Canada Flight 797

Written in the spring of 1978 by the Canadian singer-songwriter Stan Rogers, “The Flowers of Bermuda” is a disaster ballad on a small scale, telling the story of a ship that founders with nineteen people aboard. We’ve looked at shipwreck songs before at Murder Ballad Monday, especially in this post from … → read more

A Survivor’s Reckoning: The Triplett Tragedy

Triplett Tragedy

Blood on the mountain And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? — Genesis 4:9 Truly old Watauga is making for herself a dark and bloody record. — Watauga Democrat, Jan. 6, 1910 On Christmas Day, … → read more

“Blue Wing” and the Legend of Little Willie John

"Blue Wing," original art by Tom Russell (used by permission)

Prelude On the road for work a few months ago, I was driving between Cheyenne and Denver. I had a chance to meet up with an old friend for coffee on the way. Early in our conversation, I noticed she had some new ink on her left forearm, a cluster of … → read more

Far too many of you dying: ‘What’s Going On’

Cover image for 'What's Going On' (Motown Records)

“Local draft board No. 4 in a district surrounding State and 35th streets, containing 30,000 persons, of whom 90 per cent are colored, registered upward of 9,000 and sent 1,850 colored men to cantonments. Of these 1,850 there were only 125 rejections. On Nov. 11, when the armistice was declared, … → read more

Lamkin – A most brutal bloody ballad.

Introduction Fragments of time and history filter down to us in the Child ballads. We get whispers and incomplete stories that make us ponder what ‘really’ lies beneath. This is deeply true in the case of “Lamkin.” Like so many of the ballads collected by Francis James Child, the ‘truth’ … → read more

The Two Ballads of James Connolly, the Irish Rebel

Introduction Over the summer, I attended a wedding of two friends at my alma mater in Sewanee, Tennessee. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Sewanee is a small liberal arts college with some of the most devoted alumni the world over. To meet a fellow Sewanee graduate is … → read more

Murder and Mother Columbia: American Murder Song

"Mr. Tender" (Terrance Zdunich) and "Mr. Storm" (Saar Hendelman) (photo from American Murder Song, source: Facebook)

Murder ballads in sepia We heard from the folks at American Murder Song last month. Their touring production of original murder ballads, set in an mostly imagined early 19th century America, intrigued me enough to want to explore it here. I hoped I might find something provocative to add to … → read more