“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

Digging for Clues in the Fatal Flower Garden

“Fatal Flower Garden,” recorded in 1929 by Nelstone’s Hawaiians, is only the second of eighty-four songs on Harry Smith’s epochal Anthology of American Folk Music – a collection justly celebrated in some macabre corners (mine, for instance) for its songs of dark, outré subject matter and tone (e.g., Clarence Ashley’s … → read more

Young Hunting (Henry Lee, Love Henry)

This week’s installment focuses on another American contribution to the genre, in the sense that “Henry Lee,” or “Love Henry,” is an Americanized take on an old ballad called “Young Hunting” (Child Ballad No. 68).     The ballad tells the tale of a man, Young Hunting, who, returning to … → read more

Seeking resolution

Elvis Costello appeared five or six years ago as part of “The Harry Smith Project,” a musical renewal of the songs collected by Smith in the Anthology of American Folk Music, providing his proposed resolution of the Omie Wise tale.  It’s a remarkable performance, I think, and a fine bit … → read more

Who writes “The Ballad of Nancy and Henry”?

Harry Smith’s Anthology incorporated his somewhat idiosyncratic, news-brief style summaries for the songs he included.  The brief on “Ommie Wise” reads as follows:   GREEDY GIRL GOES TO ADAMS SPRING WITH LIAR; LIVES JUST LONG ENOUGH TO REGRET IT   A Naomi Wise was drowned by her sweetheart Jonathan Lewis … → read more