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Audio CD, September 17, 2012
Two Butchers (2:40)
The Cruel Mother (5:41)
Pretty Peg (2:45)
John Barleycorn (5:18)
The Days of Forty-Nine (3:48)
Mount & Go (4:03)
Deep Blue Sea (3:30)
Jack Hagarty (3:32)
For All That (3:52)
Total running time, 35:11
â€œTwo Butchersâ€ is a set of nine traditional ballads.
The title song was first printed in England in the 17th century. It made its way to America and was collected in Ozark Folksongs. Two or three butchers, depending on the variant (named Johnson, Dixon, Jinkson, Jackson or Dickie), are traveling on horseback when they see a naked woman tied up by the side of the road. They give the woman a cloak and take her with them, but as it turns out, she is bait for a band of highwaymen lurking in the bushes. A fight ensues, and the noble butcher is stabbed in the back by the woman.
â€œThe Cruel Motherâ€ is a Child Ballad, and a woeful one. A woman who has been sleeping with a local farmerâ€™s son (or the town clerk, in another version) gets pregnant and decides to have her child in the woods and then murder the helpless infant. As sheâ€™s walking home, she sees three babes playing with a ball, two well-dressed and one stark naked. The woman swears that if this were her child, she would dress it better. The babe replies, saying, "Mother, I was your babe, and you dressed me in black dirt and green grass." A ghastly ballad.
â€œPretty Pegâ€ is a humorous ballad about a young girlâ€™s lover who lowers herself down through the chimney to spend the night. The parents are both suspicious. The father goes to check on her, and finds her with her prayer-book. He returns to bed, but the suspicious mother also gets up, and she finds herself in the basket the young lover used to lower himself down with. She is swung to and fro, a warning not to interfere with loveâ€™s designs.
â€œJohn Barleycornâ€ is my liberal interpretation of what appears to be a murder ballad, but which is actually a cycle tale about planting and harvesting corn.
â€œThe Days of Forty-Nineâ€ was probably written sometime after 1849, describing the hardships of the minerâ€™s life and the kinds of characters it produced.
â€œMount & Goâ€ is a Scottish ballad that treats of a woman married to an older man, and how she decides, one night, to make off with his gold, marry a younger man, and escape to America. At the end of the tale, she is â€œfifty ploughs and threeâ€ and has â€œthrown her wine glass into the sea.â€
The origins of â€œDeep Blue Sea,â€ a beautiful choral tune, are obscure. Pete Seeger recorded it in 1955. I first heard it sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock. It has a gospel feel. Some think it originates with fragments from old English sea songs. There may also be some Jamaican or West Indian influences.
The 19th century American song â€œJack Hagartyâ€ originates in a Michigan lumber camp. Anne Tucker lived in Greenville. In the late 1860s, Dan McGinnis, a burly red-headed raftsman, came to town. He wasnâ€™t permitted to court Miss Tucker, but did work for her fiancÃ©e, George Mercer. Hagarty was another fellow from the camp. McGinnis wrote the song using Hagarty as an alias. Mercer and the Tuckers at first disliked the song, and prevented it being sung in camp, but later came to enjoy it, and Anne herself is said to have sung it to friends.
â€œFor All Thatâ€ is my interpretation of a lyric by Scottish bard Robert Burns.
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