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.