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There’s one kind favor I’ll ask of you, that’s to listen to tonight’s episode of Folkadelphia Radio featuring Scranton’s Coal Town Rounders

Blindlemonjeffersoncirca1926Memento mori is a Latin phrase that means “remember you will die” and it is a commonly used motif in art serving to remind about the temporary nature of mortality. The motif can be seen throughout time and artistic disciplines, symbolized, for example, by skull imagery in paintings, depictions of the Grim Reaper and his danse macabre, cemetery architecture, and literary themes.

The subject of death and specifically burial instructions make up a significant portion of blues and folk songs, including “The Fatal Flower Garden,” “Country Blues,” and “The Butcher’s Boy.” None of these though is as detailed and poignant as Blind Lemon Jefferson‘s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” also known as “One Kind Favor,” originally recorded in 1927 for Paramount Records and included in the massively influential Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. We’re taking a close look at the song tonight on Folkadelphia Radio.

Jefferson was discovered in Dallas, Texas by Paramount Records and taken to Chicago to record throughout the 1920s, leading to commercial success and national acclaim. Jefferson’s unique style of playing and singing influenced the development of the Texas blues tradition and beyond. In 1930, Son House and Charley Patton, also recording for Paramount, were told to record their own take on the song, which led to the melody-sharing “Mississippi County Farm Blues.”"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” has been covered by artists as diverse as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Canned Heat, Diamanda Galas, The Dream Syndicate, and more. As a continually fulfilled wish, many admirers over the years have taken the pilgrimmage to the Wortham, Texas cemetary on Highway 14, due approximately 85 miles south of Dallas to keep Jefferson’s grave site clean.

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Forget trying to classify them and just listen: Railroad Earth’s Session, and “Katie Cruel’s” importance in music, tonight on Folkadelphia Radio

Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | http://laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com/
Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | http://laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com/

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.

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Poor murdered “Pretty Polly” and a session with Chris Kasper, who fronts a strong local crew, tonight on Folkadelphia Radio

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Pretty Polly” is the name of a rather grim and gruesome American murder ballad based on an even older British ballad called “The Gosport Tragedy.” The biggest difference between the two is a matter of narrative darkness. In both versions, a man murders his girlfriend after he learns she is pregnant, but, whereas in “Gosport,” the murderer receives his swift comeuppance while trying to escape his fate, the perpetrator in “Pretty Polly” often leaves the scene of the crime without punishment in this world, instead deferring his “debt to the devil” until the end of his own life.

Depending on the version, things can take a cringeworthy turn involving incest, insanity, premeditation, pejorative language, obsessive behavior, and, of course, the supernatural. It’s no wonder that this story continues to be one of the most popular and widely covered in the folk music world and beyond. To put it plainly, it’s a messed-up story. We’ll hear a few of the many versions available to us on the air.

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Why Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is a modern ballad and CocoRosie’s genre-bending session that blew my mind, tonight on Folkadelphia Radio

CocoRosie by Rodrigo Jardon
CocoRosie by Rodrigo Jardon

At her recent concert at the International House, Norwegian musician Susanna (of the Magical Orchestra) performed a chilling rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” trading in the familiar guitar riff for dark piano chords. Inspired by its universality, a quality that grants many ballads and tunes timeless, Folkadelphia will be focusing on “Jolene” and playing back a few diverse covers of this classic song.

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Irish supergroup The Gloaming and a galaxy-saving session with Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, tonight on Folkadelphia

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Since we’re friends, let’s be real with each other – supergroups, especially when self-proclaimed, are usually a bust. The collaboration between this highly acclaimed, highly respected group usually produces sub-par music compared to each individuals’ normal output. Every once in a while though, synergy takes hold, chemistry kicks in, and the result is something unbelievable and out of this world. The Gloaming, a collaboration between pianist Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), guitarist Dennis Cahill, fiddler Martin Hayes, hardanger Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh, and singer Iarla Ó Lionaird, lives up to the supergroup title and then some more. On their debut eponymous album, The Gloaming create lush and extremely dynamic sonic landscapes that are rooted in the Irish folk tradition – perfect for Folkadelphia listeners. Watch this introduction to the Gloaming:

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Esmé Patterson’s perspective shifting EP and an intimate recording session with Dension Witmer, tonight on Folkadelphia

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Esmé Patterson cut her teeth playing with the sprawling indie folk-pop 7-piece Paper Bird. She’s currently prepping the release of Woman to Woman, a brand new solo EP that takes the point of view of many titular women characters in classic love songs like Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” the Beach Boys’ “Caroline No,” and Elvis Costello’s “Alison.” By turning the perspective around, Patterson sheds new light on songs we’ve heard a million times and probably never truly absorbed their meaning. For deeper investigation, read Jon Solomon’s interview with Patterson. Look for the release of this great set of songs in mid-April.

Watch a video for “Swimmer,” a song from her 2012 release:

Esmé Patterson – Swimmer from Isaac Ravishankara on Vimeo.

On this episode of Folkadelphia, we invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the intimate songs of Philadelphia’s Denison Witmer, performing as a duo with local guitarhand Ross Bellenoit, and sharing a number of songs from his latest eponymous album, released last year via Sufjan Steven’s Asthmatic Kitty label. On a personal note, Denison has been one of my favorite songwriters for a decade and it has long been a dream to host him for a session. In October of 2013, we made it happen.

Watch a live video of Witmer performing “Hold On”

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Treasured songwriter Diane Cluck and the boundary pushing Jenny Hval, tonight on Folkadelphia

Photo by Scott Yates
Photo by Scott Yates

Diane Cluck has long been a treasured songwriter for those of us who are in the know. With Boneset, her first album in eight years, I hope those of us in the know will outnumber those of us who are not.

Folkadelphia will be presenting Diane Cluck’s Philadelphia concert on Saturday, March 22nd at Rigby Mansion, a literal mansion residence in the Germantown area. Joining the bill are Amanda Jo Williams (who we’ve previously featured on the radio) and Mike Tamburo. Learn more info. about the concert here and email fred@folkadelphia.com for details.

Listen to “Why Feel Alone?” from Boneset

On this episode of Folkadelphia, we’re pleased to premiere the in-studio session with Norwegian artist Jenny Hval. Hval and her music are often described with rousing terminology – provoking, incendiary, shocking, agitating. Her most recent album Innocence Is Kinky is a whirlwind ride of operatic vocalizing, encompassing synthesizer sounds, and stormy atmosphere. What really drew us to Hval is her commanding presence and the way she stands out admist the chaos. The way that Hval pushes against the strict boundaries of easy genre classification is entrancing and admirable. Jenny Hval returns to Philadelphia to open for Swans at Union Transfer on May 15th.

Watch Jenny Hval’s recent performance for WNYC’s Soundcheck:
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