Friday, April 10, 2009

#31: That Sinking Feeling - Songs of Seafaring, Love, and Tragedy

Playlist for Sunday April 12, 2009
Hosted by Greg Denton with guest Carly Wilson


1. Wake Up Jacob - Prince Albert Hunt & His Texas Ramblers

2. The Sailor Being Tired - Dillard Chandler
A tired sailor is put to bed by an inn's maid and, at his request, puts herself to bed with him. He leaves her, pregnant with his child, and heads to sea with no promise of return. If it's a boy tell him this, if it's a girl tell her that.

3. The Dark-Eyed Sailor - Karen James
A woman hasn't seen the dark-eyed sailor she's betrothed to for two years when she encounters a stranger who tries to convince her to abandon hope for his return. When she refuses to be untrue, the stranger, bearing the other half of the engagement ring he left with her, reveals himself to be her lost dark-eyed sailor (somehow she didn't recognize him, though she recognized the ring). They live happily ever after in a cottage by the sea. Moral: "Girls, be true while your lover is away".

4. A Hundred Years Ago - A.L. Lloyd
In some versions of this shanty, the sailor is anticipating an impending return to his mother. Not here: "When I sailed across the sea, my gal said she'd be true to me. I promised her a golden ring. She promised me that little thing."

5. I'm Out On The Ocean A-Sailing - Leslie Riddle
Though little known and largely unrecognized, Leslie Riddle may be one of the most influential musicians in the history of country music. Born in North Carolina in 1905, he taught himself to play guitar after he lost a leg in a cement plant accident. He met A.P. Carter in 1928, just as The Carter Family (lauded as the founders of commercial country music) first formed and he accompanied Carter on his "song-collecting" trips. While Carter collected lyrics, it was Leslie Riddle who was in charge of remembering the melodies. It was also Leslie Riddle who taught Maybelle Carter much of her legendary guitar picking technique. Overlooked and lost to obscurity in the Carter Family shadow, Mike Seeger learned of Riddle from Maybelle Carter after playing a concert with her in the early 1960s and tracked him down in Rochester, New York. The recordings Seeger made of Leslie Riddle between 1965 and 1978 (he died in 1980) are all we have of him and are available on the album Step By Step released by Rounder Records. 'I'm Out On The Ocean A-Sailing' seems a metaphor of religious questing: heading to harbour, finding religion in the lonesome valley, and on his way to the city. But as he sings he's not there yet; he's still "out on the ocean a-sailing".

6. Seaman's Blues - Hank Williams Sr.
A Texan on a tanker from the Gulf of Mexico en route to Italy longs for the soil of Texas and the girl he left behind. "Nights are so lonely on the ocean".

7. Off To Sea Once More - Jerry Garcia & David Grisman
"I spent a night with Angeline too drunk to roll in bed. My watch was new and my money too, in the morning with them she fled." A Sailor ashore on a binge ends up in dire straits and is forced, regretfully and miserably, to go to sea once more aboard a whaling ship in the arctic: "It was then that I wished that I was dead or safe with the girls ashore".

8. The Sailor's Plea - Jimmie Rodgers
A sailor hears rumors that his love ashore is about to wed another man despite her promises to wait for him. He begs her to dispel the rumors or he will never return to shore again.

9. Sailor Boy - The Carter Family
A sailor setting off to sea promises his love that he'll return. The ship returns, but alas, the sailor doesn't. However a letter he wrote on his deathbed promises he will meet his love in heaven.

10. Where is My Sailor Boy (What Does The Deep Sea Say?) - The Lily Brothers & Don Stover
A woman who lost her love to the sea communes with the ocean that now embraces the man she used to embrace.

11. A Seaman's Girl - The Louvin Brothers
"A seaman's girl lives a life that is lonely while her man is gone out to sea". She's filled misery and worry, but she keeps that, stoically, to herself.

12. The House Carpenter - Clarence Ashley
Returning from sea, a sailor seeks out his love to find her with a child and married to a house carpenter. He explains how he forsook a chance to marry the king's daughter for her and asks her to forsake the house carpenter and come with him to sea. Two weeks at sea, she weeps for the loss of the child she left behind. Threes weeks at sea and the ship springs a leak and goes down.

13. Sinking In The Lonesome Sea - June Carter Cash
The captain of the 'Merry Golden Tree' promises his daughter's hand to a sailor if he succeeds in sinking an enemy ship, a "Turkish Reveille". The sailor swims to the enemy ship and succeeds at his espionage but the captain reneges his promise, refuses to throw a rope and leaves the sailor to drown. The sailor knows he could sink the 'Merry Golden Tree' by the same means he sunk the enemy ship, but his love of the captain's daughter and the fellow sailors on board prompts him to spare it. Instead, he accepts his fate, bows his head and sinks in "the low and the lonesome low".

14. The Ocean - Alela Diane
A woman longs for the ocean she loves. She wishes she could go to the sea and have her husband follow, but his "heart is with the hillside" and she sacrifices to stay there with him "Lost up in the mountain".

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