More wicked deeds by Willie in “Banks of the Ohio” and Heyward Howkins’ lyrical session, tonight on Folkadelphia Radio

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Illustration by Rebecca Dart
Illustration by Rebecca Dart

In many ways, Joan Baez was my gateway to the larger folk music world and the traditional songs that are fodder for inspiration and performance. I recall in particular dropping the needle on her early 1960 records over and over. Joan Baez, Vol. 2, released in 1961 on Vaguard Records, introduced me to many staples of the folk world (and features a great backing band in The Greenbriar Boys). Among the songs is the tragic murder ballad “Banks of the Ohio.” Despite the popularity of the song, neither its origination or authorship is known, except that it dates back to the 19th century. Interestingly and probably not coincidentally, the song dates back to the same period as another murder ballad “Pretty Polly,” which we previously covered. Both songs relate the story of the narrator, a scorned lover named Willie, who ends up brutally murdering “the girl I loved the best” (or Polly in the case of “Pretty Polly”). From the first recording of the song by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers in 1927 (for the Victor label) to Vandaveer’s recent rendition for their murder ballads album, the song continues to inspire with its tragedy, drama, and bloody passionate conclusion.

Tonight on Folkadelphia Radio, we will also premiere a session from local Philly group Heyward Howkins, led by John Howkins. Following the release of their sophomore LP Be Frank, Furness in the later part of last year, we coordinated with Howkins for a Folkadelphia Session which we then tracked in January. Reviewing Be Frank, Furness, John Vettese of The Key sums up our fascination with Heyward Howkins: “It certainly aids in appreciation of this album if you have an ear for lexicon, have driven along North Broad Street around Fairmount Avenue, or maybe studied Philadelphia history. But the best thing about Be Frank, Furness: you could be completely oblivious to Howkins’ writerly tricks and odd references and still find it a breathtaking work.” As a folk nerds, we are particularly keen on these “Writerly tricks and odd references” and geek out whenever we dig in a little deeper to the potential meaning of a song. That being said, John and co. are fantastic musicians and create a full-on enjoyable experience. The Key also previously recorded Heyward Howkins back in 2012 for a Key Studio Session.

Heyward Howkins – Be Frank Furness from Jason Stewart on Vimeo.

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