These photos (© Brookhaven Associates, Inc.) of forgotten campers and decaying campsite playgrounds are lovely–and sad–and haunting. And they remind me that October is the time I like to celebrate another love of mine: bluegrass, folk, and old time music–especially murder ballads and ghostly songs. I’m a very peace-loving person, but I’m also drawn to poetic storytelling of life’s tragedies, not to mention that high lonesome sound.
If you’re like me and you love a good Hallowe’en-inspired music set, check out the PineCone Bluegrass live streaming Halloween special on Sunday, October 30 (6:00-9:00 p.m. EST), for a night of spooky songs and murder ballads. Or, listen to Seattle’s KEXP live streaming on Monday, October 31, as they play Halloween-themed songs all day. Do you have a favorite Halloween-themed song? Post it in the comments section. I’d love to discover some new tunes for my Halloween playlist this week. I’ve included some of my favorites below.
It’s the Spookiest Time of the Year (so let’s celebrate in song)
A driver picks up a back seat specter in “Bringing Mary Home,” with beautiful harmonies sung by The Country Gentlemen
Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings avenge centuries of wronged women in”Caleb Meyer,” a tale of moonshine and murder. Gillian said she wrote this song because murder ballads always tell of men killin’ their women. But not this heroine. She fights back.
A chain gang wreaks violent revenge in “Blackjack County Chain,” by The Del McCoury Band. This song gives me chills every time I hear it. And though Del didn’t write it, I can’t imagine anyone else singing it (no disrespect to Waylon and Willie).
I’m not sure anyone tells the story of the grim grinning ghost of “Little Margaret” and her late-night visit to a former lover better than North Carolina folk artist, Sheila Kay Adams. But the Knitters and the Carolina Chocolate Drops also do great versions of this haunting English tune that dates back to the 17th Century.
Little Willie has evil plans for the “Pretty Polly,” by Dr. Ralph Stanley and Patty Loveless–two of the best voices I’ve ever heard. It’s a perfect dichotomy of dastardly lyrics and upbeat, toe-tapping, Appalachian music.
An unfaithful wife regrets the treachery that caused her lover to hang from the gallows in “Long Black Veil,” by Johnny Cash. There’s also an interesting duet version by Johnny and Joni Mitchell here, but it’s hard to be scared by Joni Mitchell.
A kind stranger opens his home to a ghostly drifter in “He Had a Long Chain On,” by Jimmie Driftwood. (I really love the Knitters’ version too.)
Some might think Jim McReynolds shows a devilish sense of humor in this video, but no one can deny the angelic harmonies that Jim and Jesse sing in this tragic tale of the “Knoxville Girl,” an Appalachian ballad derived from an old English folk song, “The Oxford Girl.”
And finally, a young bride’s wild and wanderin’ ways land her a half a mile out and a quarter across some wheat field rows–but no one knows who put her there but “The “Blackbirds and the Crows.” Written by Asheville, NC native Don Humphries–whom I met at Jack of the Wood one night when I was sitting with my pal Daphne and a bunch of strangers talking about cool bluegrass songs. I said I loved “Blackbirds and the Crows,” and a guy at the table said, “Well you’re sitting next to the guy who wrote it.” And sure enough, it was Don Humphries. The Nashville Bluegrass Band’s version knocks my socks off, and you can hear their rendition here. This video features Mr. Humphries, but you’ll want to start at the 57 second mark if you want to skip the band banter.
It was hard to stop here. I’m looking forward to hearing more on the PineCone Bluegrass show next Sunday. And any suggestions from the blogosphere, of course.