One Day You’ll Be Gone: “If We Were Vampires” — CwD 12

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, (screen capture from performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live)

This is the twelfth installment in our “Conversations with Death” sub-series. Introduction My spouse had cancer 14 years ago. She’s fully recovered. I’m still not sure I am. When I think back over the complex set of interests and experiences that drew me to create this blog, it’s hard to … → read more

“The Butcher Boy” / “The Railroad Boy”

Introduction: “It’s the butcher boy I love so well …” The title of today’s song suggests a narrative consistent with the stereotype of violent misogyny in our genre of choice.  Strictly speaking, this time that could lead to some inaccurate assumptions.  The boy in question is simply the son of … → read more

Method & Music: Jake Adam York’s “Knoxville Girl”

Appalachian Rocks.

Urgency and Dread A few weeks ago when I wanted something just right to read, I visited my bookshelf. I relish in-home browsing, and I also generally find what I need. That day, I was looking for a new way in to thinking about a song I’d been playing on … → read more

Full Moon, Dark Heart: Eddie Noack’s “Psycho”

noack psycho

I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times. — Robert Bloch, Psycho (1959) Just out of sight In the summer of 1968, a peculiar country and western song came and went to little fanfare on a small Nashville record label. Sung by a fading honky-tonker who … → read more

Might Have Drowned: “The Swimming Song” – CwD 11

(photo credit: David Travis)

We break at times from our regular fare of murder ballads for songs that confront mortality in other ways. Today’s discussion is the next installment in our “Conversations with Death” series. Special thanks to David Travis for his pictures in the post. Prelude: Agitated waters All kinds of people advise … → read more

The wind will blow it higher: “Biko”

Steve Biko Tribute (1992), by Willie Bester

“The man is dead, the man is dead” This week marks the 40th anniversary of the death of South African anti-apartheid activist Bantu Stephen Biko. Biko, a leader in the Black Consciousness Movement, died in the custody of South African security services. A banning order imposed by the government in … → read more

Still He Keeps Singing: “I Ride an Old Paint”

Carl Sandburg (photo by William A. Smith, from Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site)

“I am here when the cities are gone. I am here before the cities come. I nourished the lonely men on horses. I will keep the laughing men who ride iron. I am dust of men.” — from “Prairie” by Carl Sandburg Hoolihans and poolroom fights When we wrote our … → read more

“Still Growing” / “The Trees They Do Grow High”

Introduction – “Still Growing” Today’s featured song fits clearly, if not neatly, into our wheelhouse here at MBM.  It is not precisely a murder ballad.  Neither is it exactly what we call a ‘conversation with death.’ It is, like many of the ballads we cover, old and rather widely dispersed … → read more

Time, Truth, and Tempest: A Titanic Playlist, Part 2

Screencap from 'A Night to Remember' (1958)

In our first post on Titanic songs, we listened to songs that emerged in the years soon after the disaster. They reflected on the events of the tragedy itself, and the lessons we might draw from it. Moving closer to the present, the details of the Titanic‘s story become less pertinent than … → read more

“When that great ship went down”: A Titanic Playlist, Part 1

“The way the band kept playing was a noble thing. I heard them first while still we were working wireless, when there was a ragtime tune for us, and the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my lifebelt on, they were … → read more