Friday, April 3, 2009

One more folk song : Barbara Allen



Surely one of the best-known of all traditional songs on both sides of the Atlantic, "Barbara Allen" was collected by Cecil Sharp on various places during his Appalachian trips (see previous post).

It is a very old song, of uncertain origin, going back to the 17th century in England and Ireland as well. See here for more details about the song.

As Mr. Wikipedia says "Most versions of "Barbara Allen" can be summarised thus: a young man is dying of unrequited love for Barbara Allen; she is called to his deathbed but all she can say is, 'Young man, I think you're dying.' When he dies, she is stricken with grief and dies soon after. Often, a briar grows from her grave and a rose from his, until they grow together."

Following a request for early and traditional version sof the song, I dug and found a few interesting ones.

In the 1950s song collectors from America went to Ireland and recorded traditional singers, in a sort of Cecil Sharp trip in reverse. Here is one of them, Sarah Makay, recorded in 1954 by Jean Ritchie.

Sarah Maken - Barbara Allen (buy) (1960)

Let's cross the ocean once again and hear a bluegrass version by The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover (banjo), recorded for Folkways in 1961.

The Lilly Brothers & Don Stover - Barbara Allen (buy) (1961)


Then, back to England, with Shirley Collins and her sister Dolly's strange and beautiful portative organ. Shirley was an important figure in British folk revival in the sixties and after.

Shirley Collins - Barbara Allen (buy) (1968)

But Barbara Allen was not only sung by folk musicians. Barbara could be pop and jazzy and swinging sometimes.

Doris Day - Barbara Allen (buy) (1941)

(quote from Wikipedia) : "Johnny Cash re-wrote lyrics to this song and performed it live at Austin City Limits in 1987. The song was re-named "The Ballad of Barbara". The main theme of the song is about divorce instead of death.".

In fact the song was first recorded in 1977 on The Last Gunfighter Ballad. I prefer the original version.

Johnny Cash - Ballad of Barbara (buy) (1977)

Unfortunately I don't have the beautiful Bob Dylan version, but here it is on the Deezer player


Découvrez Bob Dylan!

7 comments:

Paul said...

Great! Thanks. I especially like the Lilly Brothers bluegrass version.

Ramone666 said...

Great post! Drop me a line if you need a Dylan version.

Anonymous said...

Just discovered your blog. What a great post! Thanks, look forward to reading more. W.

Nicolas L said...

thanks for your comments on various posts, W !!
I'll try not to disappoint you

Darius said...

I first discovered this song as done by Joan Baez. I wish I had that version to offer you, but it's trapped on vinyl, along with far too much else.

Steve Subrizi said...

Colin Meloy recorded a really heavy and doom-y cover of Shirley Collins' version that I just love.

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