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CD136 -


Gentle Harry (L. Null)
The Border Widow's Lament
Rocky Banks of the Buffalo
Suzie Cleland - 4:42
Sweet William's Ghost - 4:50
Loving Henry - 2:14
Lord Ullin's Daughter - 5:46
Lucy Wan - 3:22
Gentle Harry (L. Null) - 4:23
Come Sweet Jane - 3:21
The Border Widow's Lament -4:12
Franklin and His Ship's Crew - 4:40
Lakes of Ponchartrain - 2:25
Rocky Banks of the Buffalo - 2:55
The Feathered Maiden or Nllaus Erlandsen - 6:27

Bill Shute & Lisa Null
The Feathered Maiden & Other Ballads

1. Susie Cleland This version of Lady Maisry (Child #65) was brought back from Scotland by Dave and Carol Pressberg, two Bostonians with an endless store of good traditional songs. It dates from a time when a woman's right to marry the man of her choice was a life-and-death matter or self-assertion. How different from today, when so many women feel that their identities are smothered by their marriages.

Tuning: EADGCE (C major, Hexatonic) This Scottish melody demanded a lilting but supportive guitar. I used the open C to obtain a drone effect, and played with a flatpick.

Vocal: Lisa: Guitar: Bill, Lisa; Chorus: John Roberts, Tony Barrand, Caroline Paton. (4:33)

2. Sweet William's Ghost I found this ballad (Child #77) in Kenneth Peacock's "Songs of the Newfoundland Outports" (Ottawa: National Museum of Canada). A ghostly lover appears, suffering the torments of Hell. Apparently, he has died before marrying his betrothed sweetheart and is being punished for an inadvertent breach of promise. She releases him of his vows, and his spirit departs to rest in peace. The song is of Scandinavian origin, but it took on its present form in Scotland and northern England before crossing over to the new world.

Tuning: DGDGBD (A major, Capo 2) This marks my attempt as a frustrated hammered dulcimer player to achieve the same results with a guitar. It is played with a dulcimer hammer.

Vocal: Lisa; Guitar: Bill, Lisa. (4:45)

3. Loving Henry This short version of Young Hunting (Child #68) traveled from the Ozarks to East Texas and was collected by William Owens from the singing of his grandmother's family. It is included in his "Texas Folk Songs," a publication of the Texas Folklore Society, and distributed by the University Press, Dallas, 1950. American variants of Child ballads arc often considered to be anemic fragments of their great, dark, terrible ancestors. But the best, like this one, distill and compress their power. There is more malice per ounce here than in any other song I know.

Tuning: DGDGBbD (G minor, Hexatonic) I worked on this Texan ballad, too, with another instrument in mind. Using an extended banjo tuning and some characteristic rolls, I tried for a "banjoistic" feel, appropriate to an Americanized British ballad. It is played with three finger picking.

Vocal: Lisa; Guitar: Bill (2:12)

4. Lord Ullin's Daughter This song was given to me by David Barron, a former member of the New York Pinewoods Folk Music Club, who specializes in obscure folk masterpieces. I later found that it had been collected by Jean Thomas in Rowan County, Kentucky. It appears without comment in her book "The Singin' Gatherin' " (New York: Silver Burdett Co., 1939). The text, by Thomas Campbell, has been used as a recitation in old Scottish school books, as well as in the famous "McGuffey's-Fifth Reader." It reached America through nineteenth century songsters, but this is the only version I know of that has been taken from oral tradition. A theme of freedom versus authority is tempered here, as it often is in the later ballads, by the father's remorse as he watches his daughter drown in the arms of her lover.

Unaccompanied vocal: Lisa. (5:41)

5. Lucy Wan This ballad (Child #51) is a composite version published in "The Penguin Book of English Folksongs" (edited by R. Vaughan Williams and A.L. Llyod and first printed in 1959). It is more common in America than in the British Isles, having been collected in New England, the Appalachians, and even Florida. The text is closely related to that of Edward (Child #13) and deals with incest.

Tuning: Regular (B major) 1 gave this stark, formulaic ballad a ritualistic accompaniment—droning, repetitive, and propulsively driving. Using non-standard chord formations (B and E without their thirds, B with a suspended ninth, and F 7 with a suspended fourth), I tried to achieve a spare quality. I play rhythmically, in imitation of bluegrass banjo rolls, and the results are similar to some of the Byrds' early efforts. This song, played with a flatpick, is emotionally one of my favorites.

Vocal: Lisa; Guitar: Bill. (3:17)

6. Gentle Harry L. Null © 1977 Yellow Earl Publishing (ASCAP) Peter Ballamy, the English singer, set a lot of songwriters sizzling on his last American tour. He simply asked why, if we found folksong meaningful enough to sing, we drew so little from its substance when writing our own songs. "Gentle Harry" is an effort to do exactly that. Like other contemporary songs, it is personal and deals more with motivation than action. On the other hand, writing in a ballad-dialogue style gave me enough emotional distance to write from my own experience without self-pity. I see "Gentle Harry" as a sort of psychological exploration of those feelings that the characters in "Loving Henry" might have undergone.

Tuning: DGDGBD (A major, Hexatonic, Capo 2) This is a straightforward mixolydian guitar setting, played fingerstyle. Sandy's dulcimer contributes some beautiful melodic obligatos over Lisa’s, and emphasizes the changing nature of the harmonic structure. The 7th scale tone shifts from G to G #.

Vocal: Lisa; Guitar: Bill; Dulcimers: Sandy Paton, Lisa. (4:16)

7. Come Sweet Jane One day, I walked into a listening booth at the Library of Congress, expecting to hear a tape of Texas Gladden. Instead, the reel contained an interview with Woody Guthrie, something that sounded like a world congress of oompah bands, and this ballad, sung by Rebecca Jones of Ebeneezer Church, North Carolina. I got caught in the Washington, D.C. rush hour that afternoon and memorized the song while creating a few traffic jams of my own. This is an incomplete condensation of "Adieu, Sweet Lovely Jane", in which the hero leaves South Carolina, works the Australian gold fields, and returns to marry his sweetheart. The Ritchie Family and Max Hunter sing similar versions.

Tuning: DADGAD (D minor, Hexatonic) This lovely Appalachian ballad again suggested an old-timey banjo quality, which I tried to capture on the guitar. I borrowed the tuning from Archie Fisher, although it is often used by American banjo players. It is played with a flatpick.

Vocal: Lisa; Guitar: Bill; Dulcimer: Lisa. (3:16)

8. The Border Widow's Lament This Scots song is a self-sufficent fragment of The Famous Flower of Servingmen (Child #106.) It was collected in Oklahoma by Ethel and Chauncey O. Moore, and is published in their "Ballads and Folksongs of the Southwest" (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964). A great woman's song, this ballad deals with a widow's ability to find personal strength in the midst of crisis. She renounces any future romance in the last stanza. Some might interpret this as foolish self-denial, but I see in it a willingness to stand on her own two feet. As I sing, American images roll across my mind's eye. After all, an Oklahoma frontier wife and a Scots border widow are, in many ways, sisters of circumstance.

Tuning: DADGAD (D major, Hexatonic) This tuning emphasizes the tonic-fifth drone sound of a dulcimer, and allows me to imagine myself a piper for a few, all too brief, moments.

Vocal: Lisa; Guitar: Bill, Lisa. (4:05)

9. Franklin and His Ship's Crew I learned this song from Helen Creighton's "Maritime Folksongs" (Toronto: Ryerson Press). The words are familiar, though the tune is rare. In 1845, Sir John Franklin took an expedition of one hundred fifty men to find a northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. He died of unknown causes, and his dwindling crew vanished as they attempted to reach civilization without him. Lady Jane Franklin, his widow, was dissatisfied with the British government's cursory attempts to find her husband's expedition. She organized a search mission of her own, which was financed by general subscription as well as by her own funds. She became a public heroine who symbolized steadfast and enterprising married love.

Unaccompanied vocal: Lisa. (4:40)

10. Lakes of the Ponchartrain I learned this song from collector Gale Huntington of Martha's Vineyard. He learned it from Welcome Tilton, a whaleman and coaster, who was his wife's grandfather. Welcome Tilton probably brought this short version of a fairly widespread American broadside back from one of the bayou ports. I wish my singing here were as slinky as Gale's.

Tuning: Regular (E minor) This is an interesting tune. The first section is in E harmonic minor (with a D #,) and the second part is in the relative major key of G (with a D natural.) The Latin rhythms contain a hint of tango, which 1 attempted to bring out. A torrid number, this one, it is played with a flatpick.

Vocal: Lisa; Guitar: Bill, Lisa. (2:25)

11. Rocky Banks of the Buffalo I heard this song in La Crosse, Wisconsin, sung by Glenn Walker Johnson, who lives by a waterfall and sings for his own pleasure. He says he learned it from one Pratt Remel of Little Rock, Arkansas. This is an up-beat variant of Babylon (Child #14,) with a feminist twist, American Indian images, and a vitality as modern as the story is old.

Tuning: Regular (A major, Hexatonic) Jimmy Driftwood should sing this song. I have used almost a Johnny Cash style back-up, but with bluegrass overtones. I wish I could play the first solo on mouth-bow. I play with a flatpick.
Vocal: Lisa; Guitar: Bill, Lisa. (2:55)

12. The Feathered Maiden or Nilaus Erlandsen Words: traditional. Tune: Lisa Null I found these words in "Danish Ballads and Folk Songs" (edited by Erik Dal, translated by Henry Meyer, and published by the American Scandinavian Foundation. New York: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1967). They first appeared in Svaning's Manuscript I, dated about 1580, and are regarded as classic in Danish ballad literature. I have condensed the ballad and set it to a tune not unlike "The Seeds of Love." I love the Grimm's Fairy Tale quality of this magical song. Although tales of metamorphosis are familiar to our Anglo-Celtic culture, I have never heard a ballad of ours with quite this flavor.

Tuning: EAEGAE (B major) I have used here a driving, banjo-dulcimer style of accompaniment in an unusual guitar tuning. This allows for some unusual effects, such as the tone cluster at the end of line two in each verse. I play with a flatpick.

Vocal: Lisa; Guitar: Bill; Dulcimer: Lisa; Chorus: John Roberts, Tony Bar-rand, Caroline Paton. (6:33)

Notes on the songs by Lisa Null. Notes on the music by Bill Shute. Copyright © 2007, Lisa Null All Rights Reserved


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