Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Another Look Knoxville Girl pt 3

Previous posts can be found here and here.

Just as a reminder, here are the lyrics from Knoxville Girl.

As I've said before I'm not a music historian so finding other's perspectives on certain songs I love is a joy.  While fuddling around on the internet a while back.  I discovered Murder By Gaslight, which had a post on my beloved Knoxville Girl.

Turns out, while the ballad does have it's origins in England and Ireland, Americans imprinted an actual murder on the song.

Murder By Gaslight led me to the fantastic article "Not Prepared to Die: Knoxville Girl" which talks about many of the things I did in my first post, although far more eloquently then I every could:
The killer didn't just visit this girl's home on Sunday evenings, he dwelt there, which carries a definite suggestion that he stayed the night. Faced with imminent death, the girl says she's “unprepared to die”, which tells us she's not yet had a chance to make her peace with God about some recent sin that's troubling her mind. Her “dark and roving eye” hints that - in the killer's mind at least - she's a bit of a temptress. Although she can now never be his bride, that possibility's evidently been raised, or why else would he mention it?  - Paul Slade
Paul Slade also mentioned another great version, Charlie Louvin's version from his 2007 album, Charlie Louvin.  It features Will Oldman as well.  The song can be found here

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day of Rest (?) The Unquiet Grave and "story songs"

I've been so busy, it hardly seems like a "murder" blog at all.  So I've decided to post something a little darker for this Sunday's Day of Rest.  Plus, it is October after all.

I've never been a fan of syrupy puppy-eyed love songs, so what I like about  The Unquiet Grave is that it succeeds at being romantic ballad and a ghost story.   A little sweet, a little obsessive, a little sad, and a little spooky.

   ‘The wind doth blow today, my love,
 And a few small drops of rain;
 I never had but one true-love,
 In cold grave she was lain.

 ‘I’ll do as much for my true-love
 As any young man may;
 I’ll sit and mourn all at her grave
 For a twelvemonth and a day.’
        The twelvemonth and a day being up,
 The dead began to speak:
 ‘Oh who sits weeping on my grave,
 And will not let me sleep?’
       ‘’Tis I, my love, sits on your grave,
 And will not let you sleep;
 For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips,
 And that is all I seek.’
       ‘You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips;
 But my breath smells earthy strong;
 If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips,
 Your time will not be long.
        ‘’Tis down in yonder garden green,
 Love, where we used to walk,
 The finest flower that ere was seen
 Is withered to a stalk.
       ‘The stalk is withered dry, my love,
 So will our hearts decay;
 So make yourself content, my love,
 Till God calls you away.’

The first version I ever heard of this song, was Jean Ritchie's a cappella version.  I was unable to find a version of it on the web, but I can't recommend it enough.

The Dubliners.  I think that this might tie with Ritchie's as my favorite version of the song.  Love those tin whistles!

What I love about traditional ballads, is the stories they tell.  Most modern music doesn't do that anymore, even when it comes to "indie" bands.  Writing a "story song" can get you accused of not being "honest" or "personal"  i.e. you'd rather make up something then explore your innermost something-or-other.  I disagree, I think that story songs can be very personal, even if the person singing them wasn't the original writer.  You bring your personal experience to them and your own beliefs.  If that wasn't true, I don't think that Luke Kelly's voice would still make me cry.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Quote of the Week - 10/01/10

My wife Mary and I have been married for forty-seven years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce; murder yes, but divorce, never.

- Jack Benny

Thursday, September 30, 2010

She's Making Whoopee In Hell Tonight

While Lonnie Johnson disliked the "blues" label, "She's Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight" is a fine example of that genre.  Recorded in 1930, the complex guitar playing and it's dark, chilling lyrics, make for a truly wicked little song.  The next time someone claims that nobody ever sung about "bad things" before 1965, point them to this little ditty.

You been gone all day, set to make whoopee tonight 
I'm gonna take my razor and cut your late hours, 
I will be serving you right 

The undertaker's been here and gone, I gave him your height and size 
Undertaker's been here and gone, I gave him your height and size 
You'll be making whoopee with the devil in hell tomorrow night  

Of course to claim that this song, is no different than modern murder songs, would be wrong as well.  Lonnie Johnson seems to take no real joy in the act.  He's become her slave, and the only way to free himself from her cruelty is to kill her.  He'll be happy to see her dead, but killing her with his razor seems to be a means to an end.  Still the act of using a razor makes me think, he really wants her to suffer, like the way she's made him suffer.  Nasty, brutal stuff.

Told you, next time you go out, please carry your black dress along 
'Cause a coffin will be your present and hell will be your brand new home 

Another way that "Whoopee" differs from songs like "I Used to Love Her", is that in some, albeit, twisted way fear of female power plays into it.  She's not simply disposable trash that's killed because her lover has tired of her, she's killed because she holds power over him.

You made me love you, just got me for your slave

He can't simply leave her.  The only way he can free himself is to kill her.  While the view of a woman as a dangerous enslaver of men, is not exactly feminist, the image brings a complexity to the song, that so many new songs lack.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Another Look: Miss Otis Regrets

Original "Miss Otis Regrets"entry is here.

LaBelle doing a  gospel tinged version of the song.  I believe that it was recorded around 1969/1970.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day of Rest - St. Louis Blues

Back in the days before the internet became a vast treasure trove (and sometimes a junkyard) of various media,  my parents had a CD encyclopedia (hey that rhymes!).  I was listening to a lot of Janis Joplin at the time, and one of the biographies I was reading mentioned that Bessie Smith was a huge influence on her.  So I looked her up.  There was an entry, with a sound file.  I clicked it.  It was just a 20 second sample, but when I heard it, I was done for. I'd never heard anything like it. It was heartbreaking and beautiful.  I've been a fan ever since. 

That one little clip, inspired a fascination with blues, jazz, ballads sung and recorded many years before I was born.  A fascination, and a love which still lasts today.

Thanks Bessie

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bucket of Blood Saloon, Virginia City, NV

At the beginning of August I went to visit friends in Reno.  My friend Cherry took me up to Virginia City.  I saw this.  They claim to be the original Bucket of Blood.  Inside it's mostly slot machines (in Nevada? No way!) but I thought the sign was pretty cool.

Quote of the Week -09/25/2010

Paul Baudry, Charlotte Corday 1860

There are three kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy.

- Ambrose Bierce

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Ballad of Jesse James (The Dirty Little Coward Who Shot Mr. Howard

Listen to Almeda Riddle's Version Here.

I've always wondered what would have happened if Robert Ford shot Jesse James in the front.  Would he still be that "dirty little coward"?

How one looks at the killing of Jesse James, probably depends on how they view him.  To some he's a hero.  To others he's nothing more than a cold-blooded killer, who acted out of self interest and nothing more.  This entry could possibly be subtitled "sing a song of a murdered murderer".

I could go on for pages writing about the history of the James Gang, but in order to get to in the events sung about in the song, I'll post a few bios, here, here and here.

At the time of his death, Jesse James was living under the name Tom Howard, in St. Joseph, Missouri.  On April 3 1882, he was preparing for a robbery with the Ford brothers, Charley and Robert.  James was unaware that Robert Ford had been working with the Missouri governor to bring him in.

That day, the weather worked in Robert's favor, it was hot enough that James removed his coat.  He also removed his fire arms as well, so he wouldn't attract attention.  When James stood on a chair to dust off a picture, Robert Ford shot him.

The Ford brothers turned themselves in, and were later tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and then pardoned all in one day.

After they left Missouri with their share of the reward, the brothers made extra money by touring.  But it seems that public opinion turned against them, and the song "The Ballad of Jesse James" is evidence of that.  Charley Ford, suffering from tuberculosis, committed suicide in 1884.  Robert Ford, ended up being murdered himself, when Ed O'Kelley shot him in the saloon that Robert Ford owned in 1892.

Some modern historians have a far more sympathetic view of "the coward", others challenge the view of James as a wild west Robin Hood.  Yet the legend still stands.  Jesse James' name is still invoked as a hero and a rebel against tyranny (unless you're talking about that other Jesse James), and Robert Ford is still a coward and a traitor.

Vernon Dalhart's version, from 1925

The Kingston Trio

Nick Cave's version from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  The movie does a pretty good job of forgoing nostalgia, in it's attempt to portray James and Ford.  While I question the historical accuracy of Cave's delivery, I think the scene illustrates the public's view of Ford pretty well.

The Pogues version, which makes sure to mention Charley Ford's involvement in the mix.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's Nick Cave's Birthday!

I was pretty busy last week due to my brother's wedding, but I'm back.  Back in time to celebrate the birthday of one of my favorite singers.  Nick Cave was born today in 1957, in Warracknabeal Australia. 

I'm sure some of you are saying "who in the hell is Nick Cave?" He's a singer, songwriter, composer, novelist, screenwriter and a all around badass dude.  He's fronted The Bad Seeds for about 27 years, and his latest protect Grinderman has blown musicians more than half his age out of the water.

Because it is my blog. I figured I'd post some of my favorite Nick Cave songs.

Deanna (damn you "embedding disabled by request")

Brompton Oratory . . .

Tupelo.  This one is from Denver, where yours truly was in the audience.

How cool is Nick Cave?  So cool that Johnny Cash covered one of his songs.

Because of this date, I decided it was time to make my special announcement.

Read on . . .

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another Look: Used to Love Her (Him).

L7's great take on the GNR song.

Original Post

Quote of the Week - 09/14/10

Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood. Hello from the sewers of N.Y.C. which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks. 

- David  Berkowitz

Monday, September 13, 2010

Used to Love Her

Random Guns N' Roses Talk 

I used to love GNR a lot.  I was thirteen, so think about your basic Justin Bieber fangirl and replace it with Axl Rose.  Then I discovered Bikini Kill and feminism.  I started wearing  combat boots, writing bad poetry and moved on.

Too bad.  Appitie for Destruction was a great album.  That being said, Axl Rose is an ass.  They could have made a lot of great albums, instead they made one great album, two sort of good albums, one dull covers album, and one bargin bin laughing stock.  

Talk Over

I hesitated before deciding to discuss the Guns' N Roses song, Used to Love Her.  Listening to it makes me feel guilty, the same way that liking the work that Tina Turner did with Ike more than her solo output makes me feel guilty.  While Axl Rose has never killed anyone, there's more than enough evidence out there that he has physically abused his partners.   

What makes this song any different than the other killing women type songs?  Besides the fact it's sung by a man who is an abuser?    The woman in Used to Love Her is disposable.

The women in Deila's Gone and 99 to Life are killed for withholding their very powerful affection.  The poor Knoxvile Girl is possibly killed for an unplanned pregnancy.  The woman in "Used to Love Her"? "She bitched so much, she drove [him] nuts." She became an annoyance, so the man simply killed her and buried her in his backyard.   And he's "happier this way".

The killers in Deila, Knoxvile and 99 pay for their crimes.  All suffer from remorse.  Haunted by ghosts and devils around their beds.   They all go to prison.  Axl Rose's killer is untouched by the law.

Yet the song, in my opinion is pretty damn funny.

I'd knew I'd miss her
so I had to keep her
she's buried right in my backyard

I still can't help but feel conflicted.  I give a lot of other songs a pass.  But not this one.  Is it fair?  Maybe not, but I'm sure that's human nature.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Ballad of Charles Whitman

On 1 August 1966, around 11:30 a.m., he entered the University of Texas Tower. Once in the elevator, he asked for help from an attendant, who informed him how to turn it on. "Thank you, ma'am," Whitman said. "You don't know how happy that makes me." (From www.popsubculture.com)

In 1966 singer, songwriter, satirist and future gubernatorial candidate Richard "Kinky" Friedman was a senior at The University of Texas At Austin.  On August 1st of that very same year, Charles Joseph Whitman entered the school's administration building.  He took elevator up to the 27th floor. He beat the receptionist, Edna Townsley (who later died), with the butt of his rifle.   He fired at Mark, Mary, Mike Gabour and Marguerite Lampou who were walking up the stairs, killing Margurerite and Mark and leaving Mike and Mary injured.   He went to the observation deck, loaded his gun, and started shooting at the people below.

Before Officer Houston McCoy fired a fatal shot, Whitman took the lives of 14 people and wounded 32 others.  The bodies of Whitman's mother and wife were discovered later.

Kinky would later sing about these events in "The Ballad of Charles Whitman" which can be found on his 1973 album "Sold American".

Unlike Bruce Springsteen's real life killer inspired "Nebraska", Kinky Friedman's "The Ballad of Charles Whitman" is no somber reflection on the nature of man and evil.  Told with a mixture of dark humor, and cold hard facts, it's a "biting examination of the culture that produced Whitman" (Fillpo, Chet. Nashville Skyline: The Subject Was Murder).

Naturally this song, upset a lot of people in Austin.
 The stark reality of the song affected audiences in Austin like nothing I've seen before or since. There were usually people in the audiences who had had friends or relatives shot in the Whitman massacre, and audience reactions often ranged from tears to screams to anger and fury and occasional attempts to attack Friedman. (Fillpo, Chet. Nashville Skyline: The Subject Was Murder)

While the song is hard to listen to, Kinky Friedman isn't lampooning the murders, he's lampooning the society that cause people like Charles Whitman to happen.   Society, and the Eagle Scouts:

I believe there is something in the mind-set of the Eagle Scout that provides an excellent breeding ground for the future mass murderers of America. Maybe it’s that, while the rest of us are desperately trying to extricate ourselves from a turbulent and troubling adolescence, the Eagle Scout is assiduously applying himself to the narrow, maddening craft of knot tying. It’s my theory that in a universe of Eagle Scouts, you’d find an extremely high proportion of psychopaths. (Friedman, Kinky. "Psycho Paths", Texas Monthly. July 2002

In "The Ballad of Charles Whitman" the things America celebrates are the things that also turn Americans into killers.

Other Links:

"The Madman In the Tower". TIme, August 12th, 1966.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Another Look: Cop Killer

Haven't been feeling well this week, which has led to a lack of new posts.  So I thought I'd post this: Charlton Heston addresses The Cop Killer controversy.

Original "Cop Killer" post can be found here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Quote of the Week

Since I end up posting quotes about once a week, I figured "Quote of the Week" might be a better title.

During all these movements no sound was heard but the quick stern words of military command, & when these ceased a dead silence reigned. Colonel Smith said to the Sheriff in a low voice—“we are ready”. The civil officers descended from the scaffold. One who stood near me whispered earnestly—“He trembles, his knees are shaking”. “You are mistaken,” I replied, “It is the scaffold that shakes under the footsteps of the officers.” The Sheriff struck the rope a sharp blow with a hatchet, the platform fell with a crash—a few convulsive struggles & and a human soul had gone to judgement.

Strother , David Hunter, "John Brown's Death and Last Words

Monday, August 30, 2010

Goodbye Earl/The Ballad of Francine Hughes

A song about two lifelong friends dealing with an abusive spouse by killing him and dumping his body in the lake.  They end up happy and he ends up "a missing person who nobody missed at all".  The song is country pop/bluegrass lite, but it's damn fun to sing along to.

While I don't advocate killing abusers, whenever I hear of somebody beating a partner bloody I feel a little twinge that says "five minutes alone with a baseball bat". I'm sure a lot of people feel the same way.   I think this song comes from that "twinge".  Besides, hearing about how Earl made a plea bargain and only got 6 months wouldn't be as fun.

Of course there is a question if the song and it's video treat the subject with a little too much levity.  Battered women do kill their abusers, and unlike the "Goodbye Earl", they seldom get away with it so easily.

The Ballad of Francine Hughes, is a far darker and realistic take on spousal abuse. Francine Hughes (who's tale was also told in the book The Burning Bed, and in the movie of the same name), was abused by her husband for years. Even after she divorced him, he refused to leave the house and continued beating her.  On March 9, 1977, after a particularly brutal beating, Francine set fire to the bedroom that she and her ex-husband shared, while he was asleep in their bed. (Info) (Info).  She was later found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. (Info)

Sung to a traditional melody,  it's half murder ballad, and half public service announcement.  In the interview, Lyn Hardy brings up an issue that I sometime wrestle with when it comes to my love for traditional murder ballads: most of them are about men killing women.  Not just murder ballads; most of the songs I've found are about men killing women.  In most cases that I've found, if a man is murdered in the song, it's usually by another man.

What makes the men in murder ballads different than real-life perpetrators of violence, is that they are often presented as "good guys" who were suddenly overcome by rage, fear, love (yes love), or some other type of strong emotion.  Real life abuse is systematic, and often escalates.  Abusers who kill their spouses have probably abused them in the past.  These aren't crimes of passion, they are premeditated acts of violence.

So why sing about it?  The murder ballad appeals to the darker aspect of human nature.  Tossing a abusive spouse in the lake; shooting a cheating spouse with a machine gun;  Getting revenge on a racist cop.  Would we do it if we could?

Francine Hughes wasn't just a woman in a song.  On the night of March 9th in 1977, Francine decided that Mickey had to die.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quote of the Day - 08/24/10

I love songs about horses, railroads, land, Judgment Day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother. And God.
                                                                                  - Johnny Cash

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cop Killer

I got my twelve gauge sawed off
I got my headlights turned off
I'm bout to bust some shots off
I'm bout to dust some cops off
- Body Count, Cop Killer

If you are old enough to remember the early 90's, chances are you recall that this little song  got a lot of attention. Not from radio stations, not ones that played music anyway. For moral conservatives, Cop Killer represented everything that was wrong with society.  For others it was a reaction to a corrupt police system.  Still other felt that, subject matter or not, Cop Killer was issue of free speech.

The song was eventually removed from the album.  But for myself, and a lot of my friends who grew up during that era, it still represents the rights of the artists vs social responsibility.

Cop Killer came out when a lot of minds were focused on the issue of police brutality.  Many people had witnessed footage of the beating of Rodney King.  About a month after the album was released, LA would erupt in violence in response to the acquittals of the officers involved.

So what is Cop Killer?  A "protest record"? (A Roc Exclusive: Ice T Speaks Out . .  .). Unlike "story songs", protest songs are a call to action.  And in once case "action" was taken.

While on patrol in July 1992, two Las Vegas police officers were ambushed and shot by four juvenile delinquents who boasted that Ice-T's Cop Killer gave them a sense of duty and purpose, to get even with "a f-king pig". The juveniles continued to sing its lyrics when apprehended.  (The Music of Murder)

So was Body Count telling people to go out and kill police officers, or was it simply a fantasy taken to extremes?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Quote of the Day

They don't think they're to smart or desperate
They know the law always wins
They've been shot at before;
but they do not ignore
that death is the wages of sin

- From "Trails End", Bonnie Parker

Complete poem found here

Photos taken from here

Friday, August 13, 2010

Delia's Gone

In high school my friend and I developed this theory: if you sing it slowly and with an acoustic guitar, you can pretty much get away with anything. One example we always provided, was Johnny Cash's Delia's Gone. It's your age old tale of a cheatin' lying woman getting her comeuppance from a vengeful lover. But it's how he does it that makes it so unerrving: he ties her to a chair, and shoots her. With a submachine gun.

I don't think it's a conicidence, that this song came out during the height of gangster rap. But unlike Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and other of their ilk, their were no hysterical polticians and no complaints from NOW.

Like so many of my generation, this was the song that taught me that country could be cool. This dark, violent, "love song" with the coolest dude on the planet. I still get chills.

Here's an earlier version of the song, with slightly different lyrics. I think it proves that Cash was well aware of popular culture when he updated it for American Recordings:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Unlike the previous songs I've written about, the inspiration for Bruce Springsteen's ballad Nebraska can be traced to a man named Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Carli Fugate.

Starkweather, and his girlfriend went on a murder spree across Nebraska and Wyoming that took the lives of 11 people including Fugate's mother, stepfather and baby sister. They were eventually captured in Douglas, Wyoming. At the time of their arrest, he was nineteen and she was fifteen.

Starkweather was sentenced to the electric chair, and Fugate, despite her claims that she was being held hostage was sentenced to life in prison. She was paroled after 17 years.

Many murder songs are sung from a first person perspective, but unlike the fictional tales of Knoxville Girl and 99 to Life, Springsteen is singing from the perspective of someone who actually existed.

The murders in this tale are no crimes of passion, but the violent acts of someone who "loss connection" with his humanity. The song mourns, not for Starkweather, but, like the song says, against the "meanness in this world".

(Info on Charles Starkweather, taken from here)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day of Rest: Shine on Me

I've decided to devote Sunday to subjects that are a little "happier" then what's usually discussed on this blog. For August 1st's Day of Rest, it's Blind Willie Johnson's Shine on Me:


Friday, July 30, 2010

Sing a Song of Murder's Quote of the Day

Probably the toughest time in anyone's life is when you have to murder a loved one because they're the devil

- Emo Philips

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Death (Row) in Texas

"Oh, woe is me, the state has put a date on me"
- Puerto Muerto w/ The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, The Hangman's Song

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a page about their death row. It's a fascinating read, complete with statistics and a list of executed prisoners, and soon to be executed prisoners. What's really interesting is that the list of executions from 1983 onwards has info about their crimes and their last statements:

Tucker, Karla
TDCJ #: 777
Race: White
Age: 38

Pinkerton, Jay
TDCJ #: 686
Race: White
Age: 24

Fuller, Justin
TDCJ# 999266
Race: Black
Age: 27

For their last statement some ask for forgiveness from the families of their victims, some proclaim their innocence, some speak to their own families, and some say absolutely nothing.

There are currently three people with scheduled executions. Peter Cantu, a hispanic male from Harris county is due to be executed on August 17th. So remember, on August 17th, in Texas and possibly another state, justice will be served, or they'll be killing a human to prove that killing is wrong. It's up to you to make the decision.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Miss Otis Regrets

A fine Cole Porter tune. This version, is by the lovely Ella Fitzgerald:

The moment before she died/she lifted up her lovely head and cried

I love that line.

Unlike the previous two songs I've discussed, "Miss Otis Regrets" is told in a third person narrative. A servant (?) telling Miss Otis' friends, oh so politely, that her mistress is unable to fulfill her social obligations because, she's, well, sort of dead. A fallen woman, who can no longer speak for herself. The tragedy of the song, isn't really the murder, it's her downfall.

Another great take on the song:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

99 to Life

She was my woman
I thought that she'd be true
Now she's gone and left me
You know her life is through.

- Social Distortion, 99 to Life

A simple age old tale. He loved her, she left him and he killed her "with his knife". Now he's in jail for the rest of his life, tortured by her memory.

While released in the 1990's, Social Distortion's 99 to Life, takes much of it's inspiration from another era. Blues and country ballads of love, broken hearts and murder permeate the song. Yet, the hard style of playing, and Mike Ness' rough vocals give the song a very modern edge. Mickey Spillane meets Johnny Cash meets the Ramones.

Don't try this at home . . .

Monday, July 19, 2010

Knoxville GIrl

I met a little girl in Knoxville
a town we all know well
And every Sunday evening
out in her home I'd dwell
We went to take an evening walk
about a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground and
knocked that fair girl down.

- Knoxville Girl, Traditional

She's been from Wexford and Oxford. When the Irish brought her to America she made Knoxville her home. No matter her where she's from, it always ends the same; beaten with a stick (or a fence post), dragged by her hair and tossed in the river.

Why did he do it? Little reason is given, expect for her "dark and rovin' eyes".

While the details are lurid, the music is sweet and haunting. I think that this juxtaposition of music and lyrics is why I find the song so fascinating. Some versions I've heard almost sound like a lullaby.

Arthur Tanner and His Corn Shuckers, who recorded it in 1927, are a good example of this. Tanner's voice is simple, straightforward and sad.

My personal favorite version however is by the Louvin Brothers.

Ira Louvin might have been a violent drunk, but damn he had a good sense of harmony. The high low sound, beautiful.

Other versions worth checking out are Brett Sparks With the Pine Valley Cosmonauts which can be found on The Executioner's Last Song, a fantastic album, containing much of the material that this blog is about, and Nick Cave's version which was a B-Side to "Henry Lee" another great song.