For the last handful of weeks on Folkadelphia Radio, we’ve been focusing on a featured song, digging a little into its history, context, and importance in music and art, and listening to a few selected renditions, usually of diverse style. This week, we’ll put a spotlight on “Katie Cruel,” a ballad that appears to have often drawn its verses, themes, and melodies from other older songs. In most contemporary versions, the narrative generally revolves around the titular narrator that despite hardship and adversity (for instance, the townspeople call her “Katie Cruel,” which seems, you know, unfriendly) remains steadfast in her journey to follow her heart’s desire.
“Katie Cruel” is said to have originated during the American Revolutionary War, but its pieces are related to Scottish ballads and broadsides, such as “Licht Bob’s Lassie,” which tells the story of a woman following infantrymen (Lichtbobs), and “Leaboy’s Lassie,” which changes the infantrymen to migrant farmers. The thematic elements are also related to “The Hexhamshire Lass,” best known from Fairport Convention. The melody and more thematic elements of “Katie Cruel” are pulled from “I Know Where I’m Going,” which continues to be a popular song and became the title of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s 1945 film of the same name.
However it is interpreted or performed, Katie Cruel remains a central character in the folk song canon.
This week’s Folkadelphia Sessions comes from the mighty Railroad Earth, fresh off the release of their latest album Last of the Outlaws. Back in February and in between two shows at Philly’s Union Transfer venue, the band arrived at our studio with a stockpile of instruments – all of which they would use – to record a totally stripped-down and acoustic session. What’s left to say? Bluegrass? Jam band? Rock and roll? Who cares how you define them because Railroad Earth are some of the most skillful players we’ve opened our doors to, for sure! Tune in and find out for yourself.
Every Wednesday from 10-11 PM on WXPN, Folkadelphia Radio with Fred Knittel explores the world of folk, Americana, country, and more, old and new, ranging from the fringe to the familiar to the freaky and everything in between. They also premiere an excerpt from a new Folkadelphia Session, an in-studio recording featuring musicians in their live element.