Join us each month in song!
CDSS designated 2016 our Year of Song. We chose it for two reasons: to honor the start of Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles’ prolific folk song collecting in southern Appalachia (1916-1918), and to look at how song serves CDSS's mission. This examination also begins a cycle of focusing on one or two genres at a time, as we identify community needs and allow for better use of our resources.
Our Song of the Month feature has been so well received that we decided to make it a permanent part of the website. You'll find an archive of these songs below as well as new ones being posted in the months to come.
CDSS’s song traditions are based primarily in the English and Anglo-American traditions — folk songs, ballads, sea shanties, rounds, songs with choruses. We also include spirituals, work songs, country harmony, African call and response, shape note and gospel, contemporary a cappella, and new arrangements of traditional songs. Our special emphasis is on community singing.
Lorraine Hammond, CDSS Board member and Song Task Group Chair, spearheaded our Year of Song efforts and oversaw 2016’s song selections. Judy Cook took on that role in 2017, and will be continuing through 2018. Our thanks to them both as well as to Lynn Nichols of the CDSS staff for shepherding them to our website.
The Bay of Biscay
introduced by Harry Tuft
The origin of this song, "The Bay Of Biscay" eludes me, even after a search of the internet. It appears that versions have been done by Shirley and Dolly Collins and Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, before the version I heard and have used in my own singing, by Norma Waterson on the album Waterson/Carthy. I imagine it would fall into the category of the ghost return of a dead lover. The melody is appropriately haunting, and Ms. Waterson's version is impressive. I included it on an album I released in 2011, Treasures Untold, on my own label, Manasses Records.
Here is a link to Norma Waterson singing “The Bay of Biscay” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_BK-e9mlvI (also embedded above)
My true love sailed on board a tender,
And where he is I do not know
For seven long years I have been waiting
Since he has crossed the Bay of Biscay-oh
One night as Mary lay a-sleeping
A knock came to her bedroom door
Saying arise, arise, my only Mary
It is your true love, I, William-oh.
So, Mary rose, put on her clothing
And swift she opened the bedroom door
And there she spied her true lover standing
His cherry cheeks they were as white as snow
Oh, William dear where are your blushes
Your blushes you got so long ago?
Oh Mary dear the clay has changed them
And I am the ghost of your William-oh.
And Mary dear, the dawn is breaking
The time has come for me to go
And, I must leave you broken hearted
Since I have crossed the Bay of Biscay-oh
Oh, If I had all gold and silver
And all the money in Mexico
I would give it all to the queen of England
For just one kiss from my William-oh.
For, my true love sailed on board a tender,
And where he is I do not know
For seven long years I have been waiting
Since he has crossed the Bay of Biscay-oh
In addition to his own label, Manassas, Harry Tuft has been a recording artist for Folk Legacy Records. His album Across The Blue Mountains, recorded in 1977, is currently back in print. Harry says, "I regard myself as a ballad singer, as it is the ballad story and melody that excite me so often. And I've been accumulating songs for over sixty years, even during the years as owner of the Denver Folklore Center."
Song, Composed in August (Now Westlin Winds) by Robert Burns
introduced by Andrew Calhoun
This was first published in the Kilmarnock edition of Robert Burns' Poems: Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. Burns' first draft was written ten years before in 1776. Robert was then 17 and its addressee, Peggy Thomson, of Kirkoswald, was 13. Burns indicated that it was to be sung to the tune of a humorous Ayrshire ballad, "I Had A Horse, I Had Nae Mair."
Here is the first verse of the model:
'I had a horse, and I had nae mair,
I gat him frae my daddy;
My purse was light, and my heart was fair,
But my wit it was fu' ready.
And sae I thought me on a time,
Outwittens of my daddy,
To see mysell to a lawland laird,
Wha had a bonny lady.'
Mr. Burns later sent his lyric to The Scots Musical Museum, indicating that it could be set to the tune, "Port Gordon." Scholars for well over a century have taken this gesture as evidence that Burns was disaffected with his original choice, which has never been published with the lyric; but they are missing something. "I Had a Horse, I Had Nae Mair" (I Had No More) had already been published, with its tune, in the second volume of the Musical Museum, where it is song #185; James Johnson (and Burns) preferred not to repeat melodies, hence his flexibility. The tune to which this is now commonly sung is neither of those to which he assigned it. Robert Burns is unique among major poets of his time in composing to melodies; he played fiddle, and needed to become deeply engaged with a tune before he could write lyrics for it; he was also a major collector of traditional lyrics and tunes. I explain in the linked video why this particular tune is of inseparable artistic importance to this particular lyric.
The Devil Buck
introduced by Mark Gilston
This song was "gifted" to me by Ben Mendel from New York City in the late 1970's. He told me he learned it from Bob Beers and that it was originally from Montana. I have been unable to find any other recorded sources or versions, though my understanding is that the huge evil cervine premonition of death is a legend in the northwestern states and in southwestern Canada. It certainly is a wonderfully eerie song, and I always included it in concerts around Halloween.
Listen to Mark sing the tune (also embedded above): https://youtu.be/dN3kdF21LPw
Double Sledder Lad
introduced by Matthew Byrne
Variant of a traditional ballad called "The Lumber Camp Song" found all over northeastern North America. Evidence collected on its background suggests a New Brunswick or Maine origin. This variant was arranged and recorded by Jim Payne & Fergus O'Byrne on their 1995 album Wave Over Wave: Old And New Songs Of Atlantic Canada (SingSong Inc). A very similar variant was collected in 1959 from Martin Deveau of Upper Ferry, NL, by Kenneth Peacock and published as Hurling Down The Pine in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports, Volume 3, pp.750-751, by the National Museum of Canada (1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved.
Sweet William's Ghost
introduced by Lisa Null
The version I sing of "Sweet Williams Ghost" (Child #77) is based on the singing of Mike Kent of Cape Broyle Newfoundland. It was collected as "Lady Margaret" in 1951 by Kenneth Peacock in Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, vol 2. I love the way it deals with the continuance of love and commitment after death. William has to be relieved of the promise he made to marry Margaret who follows him over the hills walking and talking, even asking if she can be buried with him. It's an old ballad, appearing in Allan Ramsay's The Tea Table Miscellany (1740) and Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). Bill Shute accompanies this song on a guitar played like a hammered dulcimer.
Listen to Bill and Lisa sing the song on this YouTube clip (also embedded above): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SlzH1KI7V4
Welcome Home My Sailor
introduced by Ian Robb
I first heard this “unbroken token” ballad from a young St. John's singer, Ellen Power, then in her teens, at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival. Asking around, I discovered that the song had come from singer and accordion player Dorman Ralph, of Little Harbour Deep, White Bay, Newfoundland, who lived in St John's from 1956 until his death in 1999.
I was attracted to the song for two reasons: Firstly, I loved the denouement, when not only do the long parted lovers fall into each other's arms, but “both sat down to sing..." Secondly, I was intrigued by the melody, which is a version of that collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Harriet Verrall, in Monk's Gate, Sussex, and to which he set John Bunyan's poem “To Be a Pilgrim," creating one of the best known English hymns. On the English folk scene, the tune is mostly associated with Mrs Verrall's song “Our Captain Cried All Hands” and with a version of “A Blacksmith Courted Me," but despite the fact that the text of “Welcome Home My Sailor” is known in England, sung and recorded by no less than Lal Waterson and later, Eliza Carthy, the tune used is quite different.
The words here are as I sing it, mostly from Jim Payne and Fergus O'Byrne's version on their CD, How Good is Me Life, with some inevitable minor tinkering.
Drive Dull Care Away
introduced by Dick Swain
This wonderful song was introduced to most people by Joe Hickerson on his recording, Drive Dull Care Away, Vol. 1, Folk Legacy Records, FSI-58. It was collected on Prince Edward Island from Charles Gorman by folklorist Edward (Sandy) Ives, and published in his book, Drive Dull Care Away: Folksongs from Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, PEI, Institute for Island Studies 1999, pp. 81-82. The book includes a CD with a field recording of Charles Gorman singing the song. In the late 18th and early 19th century it appeared in broadsides and a number of songsters under the titles "Contentment" or "The Friendly Society." In the notes to his recording, Joe Hickerson says that an untitled version of the song was published in the September 30, 1775 issue of The Pennsylvania Ledger; or the Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania & New Jersey Weekly Advertiser, and included the refrain, "Let us then constant be / For while we're here / My friends so dear / We'll fight for liberty."
Listen to John Roberts and Debra Cowan sing the song in this YouTube video (also embedded above): https://youtu.be/LElqdYyWwu4
When I Went for to Take My Leave
introduced by Dave Para and Cathy Barton
Ozark song collector Loman Cansler often sang this song he learned from his grandfather James Broyles, originally from Laclede County, Missouri, and he recorded it for Folkways in 1959. A variant of “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” its extended phrasing suggests a Western sound. The Civil War references are vague, but the main story remains all too relevant. “Texian” was a term used by early colonists and leaders in the Texas Revolution, many of whom were influential during the Civil War.
Watch Dave and Cathy sing the song in the video on the right (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mKnh6_xrCw). You can also hear Loman Cansler sing it from his 1959 Folkways album on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/track/41kBY3yNTtZ80GqkOamMVu.
Banks of Green Willow/Bonnie Annie ( trad. Child 24, arr. by Craig)
introduced by Moira Craig
Notes on the Song:
This is of the Jonah ballad form where it is bad luck for a woman to be on board ship. In this version, the captain’s pregnant lover seems to be the cause the ship is having problems and she is thrown overboard to die! The visual images in this ballad are amazing and to me the tune represents the sounds of the sea rising and falling. The words and tune can be found in Traditional Folksongs and Ballads of Scotland.
Listen to Moira Craig singing the tune. You'll find the song lyrics beneath the notation below.
The Death of Bill Brown
Introduced by David Jones
David says: I learned this song from a recording by A. L. Lloyd, "English Street Songs," (Riverside, issued in 1956), an LP that I found in the $1.00 bin at Alan Block's Sandal Shop in Greenwich Village. The LP was reissued as a CD, "Ten Thousand Miles Away" (2008). I mostly use Lloyd’s words which can be found on the website "Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music." Alongside, are Peter Bellamy's words which are just about the same. Also on this site is a video of Peter singing the song. The song has been recorded by Roy Harris, Peter Bellamy, A. L. Lloyd, and others.
The YouTube video posted above is an audio-only version of Peter Bellamy singing the song. And here is another fine version by Peter Coe:
Money is King, by Neville Marcano (a.k.a. Growling Tiger)
Introduced by Deborah Robins
Particularly now, this calypso song, which was widely performed in the 1950s, is, sadly, still relevant: the story of how the underclass is invisible while those with wealth can “commit murder, get off free, live in the Governor’s company...”. I first heard this song performed on an album by the very young and wonderful Bob Gibson, a regular at my parents’ favorite local Chicago club, The Gate of Horn, and, later, by the composer, Trinidadian “Growling Tiger.” According to Gibson, who was a friend and colleague of mine, his travels to the West Indies in the 1950s gleaned many songs which he transported to the states, “Money is King” among them. The original lyrics differ from those recorded by Gibson in 1956, with Gibson opting to replace island jargon. Alan Lomax recorded Marcano singing his signature song in 1962. See below for the original lyrics and two performances by Growling Tiger, and then below that for Gibson’s lyrics and performance.
Tha Sneachd’Air Druim Uachdair (There is Snow on Druinoehter)
February’s song is a Gaelic song submitted by Sara Grey. It is a traditional song sung by Donnie Murdo MacLeod from the Outer Hebrides, and here's a recording made on Skye of Donnie singing it:
The January Man
introduced by Judy Cook
Our song for this month is Dave Goulder’s “January Man.” It’s a song of fine images, insight into human nature, and just a hint of mysticism. We’re invited to contemplate the ever-circling years and our place in them. Dave wants to be sure folks sing the lyrics as he wrote them, and I know I’m not alone in wanting to hear this song sung more; this should help.
Here are the lyrics, the musical notation, and a bit of information about Dave Goulder. I love Ed Trickett’s singing of this song: simple, unaccompanied, very accessible. You'll find a YouTube video (audio only) embedded below or at this link: https://youtu.be/ZJkAng-57gA
Lamb and Lion
introduced by Lorraine Hammond
Our celebration of this "CDSS Year of Song" has kept us singing, and our "Song of the Month" has been a meaningful part of that celebration — a great new CDSS resource for songs. They are archived here, and ready for you to add to your own repertoire, each one chosen by a singer who treasures the choice they offered.
We began our "Song of the Month" year with Brendan Taaffe’s elegant "May It Fill Your Soul," and we’ll close out the calendar with a round that speaks to the heart of this season, "Lamb and Lion." It is a round in four parts that I wrote one wintry season as a holiday gift to tuck into the cards I was sending. It has found its way into the new Rise Again song compilation by Annie Patterson and Peter Blood, and Sol Weber’s Rounds Galore.
See the bottom of the page for the tab notation.
The audio below is from a recording by the wonderful songwriter and entertainer, Christine Lavin (with the Mistletones). Songs have an uncanny way of staying in circulation!
Introduction by Katy German
One of my favorite things about the folk process is the way a song can reemerge in different forms over time. Whether accidental or intentional, changing some portion of melody or words can suddenly give a song new life and depth. This song is a beautiful example. The melody is a simple and beautiful 19th century hymn, with alternative words from Eastern Kentucky singer and storyteller Randy Wilson. Randy kept the melody and some of the poetry from the traditional version, but mixed in phrases and language to give it a more universal spiritual appeal. I first heard Randy sing his version of Farther On about a decade ago at Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, KY. At the time I thought it was a clever rewording and recognized it's appeal as a soulful yet easy group singing option. What I have found since then, though, is that this is the song that rises to my mind every single time I am feeling discouraged or low on hope. It is a meditation for my soul when I am feeling derailed. I asked Randy what inspired this version and he replied, "I liked the chorus and wanted to make a spiritual out of it, with repetition so that folks could join in easily." I guess sometimes it's just as simple as that. Here is one of the traditional arrangements, along with Randy's alternative lyrics. I've included both versions so that the readers and singers can enjoy it in more than one incarnation. And Randy, thank you for this beautiful song.
Katy German is a CDSS Board member living in Asheville, NC. She loves community singing and introducing children, families, and first-timers to country dance traditions.
Skin and Bones
Introduction by Lorraine Hammond, with Jon Pickow
October’s song will be a spooky one! I learned this long ago from Jean Ritchie, of Viper, Kentucky. I have sung it for hundreds of children, delighting as they jump, startle, and then collapse with laughter and relief. And grown-ups are not exempt either! Perfect Hallowe’en musical fare.
Skin and Bones has a venerable British Isles legacy. The Roud index at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library lists more than sixty sources. One early print source is “Halliwell, Nursery Rhymes of England (3rd edn. 1843) pp.85-86, There Was A Lady All Skin and Bone.”
Interest in singing from the American “Sacred Harp” tradition has grown stronger in recent years, an awareness that is reflected in our selection for this month’s Song of the Month.
Introduction by Sasha Hsuczyk
The Sacred Harp is an American collection of hymns that has been continuously in print since it was first published in Georgia in 1844. Families of singers in many parts of the South have been singing from the book for generations, and today the Sacred Harp is enjoyed and used all over the U.S. as well as abroad. Part of what I think makes the book appealing to people from such a wide range of places and backgrounds are the universal messages that many of the songs express. As individual people we may lead very different daily lives, but as humans, collectively, we share a lot of the same emotions as we face the various trials of life. I find that singing from the Sacred Harp can offer a great deal of comfort, as well as a chance to empathize with others through song.
introduction by Sarah Jane Nelson
It was a challenge to pick one song (just one?) from the Max Hunter Folksong Collection, but "Farmer’s Daughter" swiftly made its way to the top of the pile. Harrison Burnett, who sang this song for Max in 1959 and in 1961, had the great fortune to be a "singing watchman" at the University of Arkansas where folklorist Mary C. Parler taught classes. Parler and her husband, Vance Randolph, were lifelong mentors to Max and often shared tapes and "informants" with him. Max visited Harrison at least twice, and got 16 songs from him.
Listen to Farmers Daughter, as sung by Harrison Burnett, Fayetteville, Arkansas on June 15, 1959. (Source: Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, Missouri State University)
Ladies Rejoice (a.k.a. The Ladies Drinking Song)
introduction by Hannah Shira Naiman
July's song of the month is to be served with a slice of lime.
Ladies Rejoice (or The Ladies Drinking Song) was written over a hot summer weekend in Northern Ontario as Emily Adam and I nursed frozen cocktails by the lake. Emily and I were dancing on Toronto Women's Sword (TWS) at the time, and, as I recall, although the two of us had a decent repertoire of songs, we found that we didn't feel comfortable contributing during rowdy morris ale sings. All of the songs that we knew felt inappropriate―they were mostly about tragedy and love, and none of them rowdy. But as we searched for a peppy drinking song within the existing repertoire, Emily pointed out a lack of songs from the woman's perspective. True there are a few drinking songs with female narrators―but we didn't want to talk about love and marriage or sailing on the ocean, as many other drinking songs with female narrators did. We wanted to sing simply about the joy of drinking. And also dressing up―two things, I dare say, TWS does very well besides dancing! The team has since taken to singing this song as something akin to their anthem.
The Press Gang
Introduction by Chris Koldeway
“The Press Gang (On Board A Man of War)” (Roud 662) is a song from the days when the British crown felt it could, in times of war, “press” into service anyone whom they deemed fit. (Or fit enough.) Gangs of Navy officers and Seamen would, in times of war, scour the English seaside towns, and gather up as many men as they needed. In some cases, this was done by “the book,” and other times, by less scrupulous methods. In fact, the impressment of American sailors was one of the issues that helped us to enter into the War of 1812. The Mainly Norfolk website (https://mainlynorfolk.info/watersons/songs/themanowar.html), which is a great resource for British traditional music, quotes A.L. (Bert) Lloyd about this song:
“Rarer than a good song should be, this one. Sharp heard it, or three verses of it, in a Herefordshire workhouse (the workhouse was a great place to find singers in his day). Jack Moeran noted a fuller version at Winterton Norfolk, and that’s the one Mike bases his performance on. Moeran’s singer was James Sutton, nicknamed “Old Larpin”, from whom the great Sam Larner learnt a boatload of songs.”
Dancing at Whitsun
Introduction by Kim Wallach
We dance in the month of May with Morris and Maypole, so it is fitting that the song of the month be about Morris dancing. Dancing at Whitsun, written by Austin John Marshall to the tune of “The Week Before Easter” or “the False Bride” was first published in 1968 in Karl Dallas’ book, The Cruel Wars, and first recorded by Shirley Collins in 1969 as part of the Anthems in Eden Suite.
Introduction by Jesse P. Karlsberg
April’s song is an early nineteenth-century set piece for a cappella four-part harmony singing with a name and hymn text that evoke the warming weather, “vernal flowers,” and “warbling choirs” of birds that accompany this season of the year. SPRING was published, without attribution, in James M. Boyd’s 1818 shape-note tunebook Virginia Sacred Musical Repository as a three-part setting. It acquired a fourth part, by W. H. Swan, when it was reprinted in the 1848 Harp of Columbia.1 It sets to music the second verse of Charles Wesley’s eighteenth-century hymn, “The voice of my beloved sounds.” SPRING is best known today thanks to its inclusion in The Sacred Harp, the popular tunebook used at all-day singings and conventions each weekend across the United States and in about two dozen countries.