I Guess My Corpse Is a Swan Now: Weird Folk Education
July 2, 2015 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Annotated for your pleasure, these Weird Folk Song Premises are very educational. Some plots are wonderfully bizarre, sung in lost languages - others have familiar echoes that you’ll pick up later in your favorite stories. Eight female trad/folk singers explain how to address life’s great challenges, such as getting your fairy boyfriend to commit, the best ways to make harps out of body parts, and under what contexts it’s cool to eat a dead dude.
posted by sciatrix (14 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I want all of these arranged for a traditional country western trio now.
posted by The Whelk at 3:05 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sovay is one of my favorite folk songs. To challenge her lover’s faith, a woman dresses herself as a man, arms up, and robs him at gunpoint.

I mean that's one half of a Dolly Parton song right there
posted by The Whelk at 3:06 PM on July 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Folks songs: Basically folk stories without the Disneyfication.

If you're into this kind of music, Thistle & Shamrock has been doing a weekly Scots-Irish radio show for like 30 years, and you can check out some of their back episodes online.
posted by KGMoney at 3:14 PM on July 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

My Sister Drowned Me and My Corpse Turned Into A Swan: On the Plus Side They Upcycled Said Corpse Into A Haunted Harp: As related by Crooked Still, performing "Wind & Rain."
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:33 PM on July 2, 2015

Thanks for this! Several songs I know well, a version of Tamlin I have never heard, and several I did not know at all, but I love every one. Nothing like a good old morbid weird ballad to cheer me up. Another favorite is "The Selkie" about the seal man who begets a child with a mortal woman. It does not end well.
posted by mermayd at 3:43 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seems weird: I can't imagine someone writing "Eight male trad/folk singers explain...".
posted by tunewell at 4:30 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

My favorite version of Sovay is one that a folk singer friend of mine recently introduced me to: William Taylor. Instead of “I Dressed As A Man And Robbed My Boyfriend at Gunpoint for Reasons”, this one is "I Dressed as a Man and Joined the Army to Follow My Boyfriend but When I Realized He'd Quit the Army to Get Married to Some Other Lady I Murdered the Heck Out of Him and Then Got Promoted Because I Was So Good At Murdering; Also for Reasons".
posted by capricorn at 5:48 PM on July 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

Seems weird: I can't imagine someone writing "Eight male trad/folk singers explain...".

The charitable interpretation of this, which I am willing to take, is that male voices are overrepresented in the world of "explaining murder ballads to you", and so it's kinda exciting to know we're hearing from all female voices for once!
posted by capricorn at 5:51 PM on July 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Loreena Mckennitt does a beautiful version of the murdered farm girl turned into a swan/ harp called 'the Bonny Swans,' and Anais Mitchell does a absolutely lovely rendition of the child ballad's version of Tam Lin. Man, Janet of Tam Lin is the best, so wonderfully haughty.
posted by branravenraven at 6:14 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wish I could see the song list (artists) without playing each song. I have Opinions about weird folk, possibly because I have so many friends and acquaintances who perform it. (See, as mentioned in this very thread, Willie Taylor, as performed in a rather rocked-out version.)
posted by immlass at 6:53 PM on July 2, 2015

Between this thread and Her Story, I am never going to get that song out of my head now.

Ohhh the wind and the rain...
posted by Gordafarin at 2:06 AM on July 3, 2015

That's a nice Tam Lin. I came across a weird one recently, sung, or rather, howled, by David Tibet.*

Tam Lin is just about my favorite ballad, though I prefer the version which has this trio of stanzas in it:

Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the chess,
Out then came fair Janet,
As green as ony glass.

Out spak an auld grey-headed knight,
Lay owre the castle wa,
And says, Alas, fair Janet,
For thee we'll be blam'd a'.

'Had your tongue, you auld grey knight
Some ill dead may ye die!
Father my bairn on whom I will,
I 'll father nane on thee.'

*TW for non-con
posted by glasseyes at 5:07 AM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you can see a list of titles? Anyhow you can skip through the song list with the fast forward button, which gives you the titles and a bit of blurb without needing to play them through.
posted by glasseyes at 5:13 AM on July 3, 2015

It's been rewarding to follow the links to Spotify. I think the songs are all Scottish and Border ballads - lots of 'ain true love' and 'mony an ane' - and its interesting to hear that sung sometimes without even a hint of an attempt at a Scots accent. And then there's Anaïs Mitchel's & Jefferson Hamer's creolised versions of the Child Ballads, which are gorgeous. Beautiful. Mannered, delicate, rammed with feeling.

Creolised I guess with an added, jazzed, modern sensibility beyond that given by the original transition (transposition) from the UK to America.
posted by glasseyes at 9:30 AM on July 3, 2015

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