CDSS Song of the Month
Community and traditional song in the 21st century
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 continues to contribute each month, with help from Lorraine. Our thanks to them both.
Note: Many of these old songs should be looked at as "fairy tales for adults" in that they often address very strong, and sometimes scary, subject matter. They allow us to deal with difficult situations and emotions with the distance afforded by putting it in a song. They are cautionary tales, and had their use as such.
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).
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).
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. You can also hear Loman Cansler sing it from his 1959 Folkways album on Spotify here.
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.
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 its 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.
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.”