Folk and roots music hasn’t never been the happiest, especially when love is concerned. I won’t even get into the murder ballads… but I couldn’t resist compiling a little playlist of songs of longing, lost love and absence. Enjoy (or not.)
The complaint of the forlorn lover
Once I had a sweetheart, and now I have none
He’s gone he’s left me me, to weep and to mourn.
This classic British folk song has been covered by Joan Baez, Pentangle, or Marianne Faithful, but my favorite version is by newcomer Pippa Day in the finals of Bath Folk Festival New Shoots competition.
My heart is sad I am lonely
For the only one I love
When shall I see him oh no never
‘Til we meet in heaven above
Crossing over the ocean, a classic among classics of American folk, Bury Me Beneath the Willow has been a favorite lament to sing during old-time jams. Simple an evocative, the narrator is penning his/her final words to a spouse-to-be who eloped with another. I may be partial to Rosanne Cash’s version as it was my first introduction to the song, but I find her velvet voice to carry just the right hue of resignation and acceptance, with a tinge of desperation.
Are you lonesome tonight, do you miss me, I say
Are you sorry we drifted apart
From the Carter Family to Elvis, everyone and their broken-hearted dog seems to have covered this song, so I just randomly picked Kacey Musgrave’s version.
Love is like a dyin’ ember
Only memories remain
Through the ages I’ll remember
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain
Country music coming from a rural place, the niceties of love often had to face the hardships of life. Needless to say, happy endings rarely prevail.
“Go”, she said, “And work with haste
And bring the bales into the barn
Else the crop will go to waste
And the babe will wait till the work is done”
Although not country in its style, Anaïs Mitchell’s song Shepherd (adapted from a short story by her father) is definitely about love in rural America. A tragic tale of labor and loss, sung in the ever-delicate voice of Mitchell…
The only thing different
The only thing new
I’ve got these little things
She’s got you
So this is cheating as it was first a country song by Patsy Cline, but Giddens’ bluesy version really adds to the feeling of regret and lament of an abandoned woman looking back at her former relationship.
She said I don’t know if I’ll be back
Or if you’ll want me if I come
But if and when that happens, dear
You better let my sweet dream run
Oh, let my sweet dream run
Made famous by Emmylou Harris, Broken Man’s Lament in its original version by Marc Germino is far bluesier. The lyrics tell of a man whose accepting wife can only be pushed so far before she leaves.
When I was a young girl
Well I had me a cowboy
It weren’t much to look at
Just a free ramblin’ man
But that was a long time
And no matter how I tried
Those years just flow by
Like a broken down dam
Perhaps even better know than the original by John Prine, Angel From Montgomery by Bonnie Raitt is one of the most heartbreaking songs that illustrates how in love and life, things sometimes don’t go according to plan.