“Pills of White Mercury” (Unfortunate Rake, Part One)

Murder ballads help us chart the frontiers of our empathy. They provide the chance to connect emotionally with victims and villains; sometimes with sympathy, sometimes with revulsion. Through them, we inhabit the perspectives of the dead and dying, witnesses and bystanders, and often the poor souls who, rightly or wrongly, voluntarily or in desperation, take the lives … → read more

You can take down my old violin

Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson This is our third post this week on “Tom Dooley.” You can read the first here and the second here. Introduction My heart sank just a little after reading in John Edward Fletcher’s book about the Dula case that Doc Watson told a story of Grayson … → read more

MacPherson’s rant – A western from an Auld Country – part two.

James MacPherson’s sword. The actual truth concerning the life of James MacPherson has been long lost in the mists of time. However, as with the truth concerning Liberty Valance we are really concerned with the legend. Legend has it that MacPherson and his gang swept through the lands of the … → read more

MacPherson’s Rant – A western from an Auld Country

Imagine if you can a rich landowner surveying his lands. He has a small band of his men with him. He looks around his land with pride knowing that everything he can see is his. As he stands there he slowly becomes aware of the sounds of bagpipes coming towards … → read more

The Natural and the Unnatural, Naturally

Study for “There Were Three Maidens Pu’d Flower” by Charles H. Mackie Death Before Dishonor?The themes in “Babylon” pointed me back to reviewing Pat’s excellent series of posts on “Edward,” (Child 13), particularly this one, which is a careful, reluctant, and thorough exploration of the incest theme in that ballad. … → read more

Why dois your brand sae drap wi bluid?

Note: This is Part 3 of a 4 part series – see also Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4 This week’s first post introduced us to the ballad “Edward” in Ireland and America.  My second post this week introduced a version from England and one from Scotland, and mainly … → read more

Nobody Sings Dylan like Dylan

At the end of this week, I’ll return to the key issues that Dylan addresses in “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” As part of that, I’ll look at one of if not the worst versions of the song ever sung — by Dylan himself of course — and how that … → read more