January 17th - American Ballads and Folksongs

American Ballads and Folksongs - Joan O'Bryant, 1958

A cover like a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark illustration gives a good idea of the songs inside this album, which are exceedingly bleak but sung in a cheerful lilt that somehow makes it even more depressing? The first two songs detail how bad it is to marry a) men and b) women, and I swear to god Life is a Toll might actually be the most depressing song I've ever heard, mostly because it is exactly the train of thought I have when I'm at my lowest. 

It goes without saying that all the songs are extremely great - except for maybe The Maiden on the Plains, a song I deeply hate, and even that one has a cool guitar part. There's a version of House Carpenter which manages to be pretty spooky even while omitting the usual supernatural elements of the ballad - in this one, instead of being lured to sea by her demonic lover and then shipwrecked, the protagonist leaps to her death from missing her child.

Of course, I had to compound the injury by looking up more information on Joan O'Bryant, who, I assumed, lived a long and fruitful life as a folklorist and academic. This was unfortunately not the case - she passed away some six years after this in a car accident. 

Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways