Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Music on My Mind

Allison Williams, "Willow Garden". Nothing beats a good murder ballad, and this is one of the best, and also one of the best known. It's usually recorded under the title "Down in the Willow Garden" or occasionally "Rose Conley" (or "Rose Connelly" or any number of other variants). Most recorded versions spoil the ending, though, by making the ending line "the scaffold's waiting for me," which is redundant, although it's still better than Charlie Monroe's version, which ends with "the cell is waiting for me," a line that doesn't even make sense given that the man is already set to be hanged. No, to get the ballad right you have to peg the ending right. Murder ballads only work by presenting the story as either (1) tragedy, when they sing of either human injustice or the unfairness of life; or (2) comeuppance, when they sing of terrible justice. This one is a comeuppance ballad: the justice here must be poetic, and we're talking about a man who kills the woman loves, in a brutal way, for nothing other than money. Nothing short of hell is enough for the man. And that's the original ballad: it ends with a man waiting not just to die but to go to hell. And Williams pegs it perfectly.

Of course, this version would be worth recommending just for the fact that that's the way a banjo should be played.

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