The Ballets Russes, Le Sacre Printemps dancers
Fair Ellen and Sweet William
Okay, time for a real ballad post--watch out, I kind of mean to do a lot of these. Do chime in if you have suggestions or reactions!
First, you have to check out this video. The point is the song here.
So what I wanted was to put in a sound file of me singing this song--I just (!) finished (!) mixing & mastering (!) my third CD (!), and that track was a reject--why not put it out here for someone to listen to? Nothing too wrong with it, we really just ran out of space and the energy wouldn't jive, blah blah blah. However, I actually don't know how to do that. I've seen people do it on other blogs, but I am pretty much clueless unless there's a button that says, "Click here to do that thing you want". Aaand I'm actually not sure whether I even saved that sound file when I was gleefully getting rid of all listening copies that weren't the FINAL MASTER. But enough of that. This version is where I learned it, anyway.
Fields Ward of Buck Mountain, VA (1911-1987) is the source for this ballad--not a version of “The Brown Girl” or “Fair Ellender” like I thought from the title, but a version of Child ballad No. 7, “Earl Brand”. Two links for you on that:
1. I bet you didn't know Earl Brand has its own Wikipedia page?
2. If you are at all interested in trad songs, and don't yet know about the "Mudcat Cafe", you have great discoveries in store! Some of the most learned folk scholars of our age are wiki-ing away over there, contributing song after song to the "digi-trad" where you can look up lyrics and tunes, and forming discussion threads that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. As always on the inter-webs, do double check on facts and research--not everyone can be right all the time. In any case, a wonderful resource. Looks like the Earl Brand these guys have on file is nice and Scottish. I like this verse: "She held, she held, she better better held/ And never shedded one tear..." I can just imagine the accent.
According to a brief but very informative biography by Sandra Brennan at www.allmusic.com, Ward’s mother was supposed to have been “a talented ballad-singer”, so I would imagine that this song came from her.
There’s something sweet and spring-like about the tune (especially Mr. Ward’s delivery of it), but the song itself is not a comfortable one.
Notice how all the dialogue, no matter the speaker, is in the first person, and all the action is in the third person. Check this out:
He rode till he come to Fair Ellen's home
He knocked and he tingled at the ring
"Asleep or awake, Fair Ellen," I said, "Pray arise and let me in."
"Sweet William," I said, "Come and stop your case, for you seem almost too severe."
It's unsettling! but it's really an effective way of delivering both the detachment and the totally personal appeal of epic stories. It's really common for ballads to switch between third-person action narration and direct-quote dialogue, but the crazy here is all in that "I said". I think it brings out how the ballads are like a play or a monologue, or like someone you know telling an anecdote or a story.
And so chilling is this kind of chivalry where your boyfriend kills your whole family, while you hold the horse. Fun fact: one of the reasons we took this song off the new CD is that we ALREADY HAD a song like that on there, and we weren't sure we needed two.