Anyone who really knows me knows that I love field recordings of amateur musicians singing traditional songs from memory. It only recently occurred to me that I could be making these myself. The oral folk song tradition seems broken but it isn’t as broken as what I thought it was. It is persistent and it pops up where you do not expect. The following is my four year old daughter singing songs, the melodies she learned from her “Apple toy” and the words from her mother, me and YouTube. And though she never remembers the murder ballads and outlaw songs I sing for her, the songs from the apple stuck.
This is the creepiest murder ballad I have ever heard:
I think what is getting to me about it is the striking until the gore covers the ground.
And the tossing and turning of the murderer that night in bed.
The song just seems really intimate. More so than Tom Dula or Omie Wise or Rose Connelly, etc.
I think that what it is, is that in most of these, the killer comes clean and says “go hang me or kill me for I am the man” or otherwise indicates that they deserve to die. But in this one, it is kind of about the killer’s fear of dying. And he does not come clean about his guilt.
The Library of Congress website is full of this kind of stuff:
None of it is easy to find or navigate. I scraped about 4,000 recordings and tagged them with meaningful tags for my own use. Let me know if you want a copy.