Recently on BBC America they have been running a promo for the upcoming second season of Copper
featuring a compelling cover of Hard Times Come Again No More, a song written more than 150 years ago by the "father of American music" Stephen Foster
. If you don't recognize the name, you will certainly recognize his work - "... he virtually invented popular music as we recognize it today ..." reads his bio, and that is not an exaggeration. "Camptown Races"
, "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair"
-- just a quick scan through this list of his more than 200 songs
and you will soon realize that when you think of traditional American folk music, you are probably thinking of Stephen Foster.
As for the song, if you like the short edit of the song in that trailer then you will probably enjoy the complete song, available to stream from Rolling Stone
. The artist performing this cover is Sam Beam, better known under his performing name of Iron & Wine
. His new album, Ghost on Ghost
is due out on April 16th, although it does not include this cover of Hard Times.
Personally, the first time I heard Hard Times was more than twenty years ago, with this a-capella version performed by the Lost Dogs
. To my ears that is the "right" version, although I have to admit that this a-capella version by Eclipse
is also very good.
But perhaps you prefer musical instruments with your songs. No problem, Hard Times has been covered by a wide variety of artists: You might like this version by the quintissentially American troubador Johnny Cash
, or how about Bob Dylan's performance at Willie Nelson's 60th birthday celebration
Then there is the more traditional country version by Emmylou Harris
, who by the way also appears on this definitive interpretation by Kate & Anna McGarrigle, with Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, Karen Matheson, and Rod Patterson
. If you want something a little more contemporary, with a classical edge, you might also enjoy Yo-Yo Ma and James Taylor's version
Although Hard Times is to my mind the perfect American folk song, as it turns out it lends itself surprisingly well to a Celtic arrangement, as with this recording by Scottish artist Paolo Nutini
. In fact it sounds so natural that when The Proclaimers covered it
they mis-atribute it as coming from Ireland. That's mild, though, as mistaken credits go. When Bruce Springsteen made the song a centerpiece in his 2009 "Working on a Dream" tour
he mistakenly claimed that the song was written by Francis Scott Key. What can I say, he may be The Boss but he is no music historian.