Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lomax-a-Day, Day 13

"Shady Grove" is a subtly hilarious story of a desperate man trying to find a wife. The self-deprecating narrator knows he's little more than a grown boy ("Now I am a great big boy/ I think myself a man"), but he is fixated on his search for a mate. He finally has one by the last verse, but he's so hopeless that he loses her: "Every night when I come home/ My wife, I try to please her/ The more I try, the worse she gets/ Damned if I don't leave her." It was fun to choose and rearrange verses to emphasize this story line. As it's written in Lomax's anthology, the chronology is all over the place and several verses are unrelated. Sometimes you get the sense that he provides all of the verses he's ever heard sung in a particular song. This creates some interesting juxtapositions (one of the verses I didn't choose to sing in "Shady Grove" is about the singer's mulie cow--"took a jaybird forty year to fly from horn to horn"), and almost always provides plenty of material if you're looking to create a cohesive narrative. Maybe that's being untrue to the source material, but the way I see it, singers have been putting personal touches on these songs as long as they have existed. Now it's my turn.

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