Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Murder Ballads and the Strong Woman

While I'm not a country music fan, I've become a tremendous fan of some all-female groups that cross between country, folk, and more mainstream stuff. In listening to them, I've noticed that they all turn their eyes to the murder ballad at least once. The traditional form of the genre often tells the story of a man who kills his lover and then repents and is punished. Listen the Appalachian classic "Knoxville Girl" for a great example (it was inspired by a 17th century British poem).

Of course, murder ballads are nothing new but I love how a venerable form historically associated with male blues or bluegrass singers has been subverted and rebuilt in the image of a strong woman or a woman finding her strength, converting the murder ballad into a dark and sometimes gruesome anthem of self-defense and emancipation. Some that come to mind include:
  • The Wailin' Jennys kick off their fantastic album, Firecracker with "Devil's Paintbrush Road" (not exactly a ballad but inspired by one)
  • Red Molly offers a double homicide on Never Been to Vegas with their version of the classic "Caleb Meyer" and the rocking and original "Seven Years" (I'm really sorry we missed this trio when they performed here in Rhode Island a few months ago...they are great)
  • And of course, this list couldn't be complete without "Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks, which offers not only a great song but a rollicking music video staring Lauren Holly, Jane Krakowski, and Dennis Franz among others. It manages to mix the very unfunny topic (and images) of spousal abuse with a fun tale of revenge right out of Fried Green Tomatoes. It's worth watching the whole video just to see Dennis Franz as "Corpse Earl" doing moves from "Thriller" followed by a hoedown.
Of course, as a guy, listening to these just reminds me to always be nice to my wife because she knows where I sleep and the kitchen knives aren't too far away...

1 comment:

Your Wife said...

I would never resort to murder, Honey!

Who would shovel the driveway after you were gone?