The third in a series of recording projects stemming from the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives, Rawhead & Bloodybones (2015) combines samples of music and folk tales with live instruments. The historic archival recordings of children recounting folk tales were made by Leonard Roberts in the 1940s and 50s. The combination of the children’s youthful voices and the often gruesome stories they tell offers a striking and dramatic contrast. These recordings along with other archival samples from Berea are woven into a larger musical world, with additional instrumental parts added as a counterpoint to the stories. Rawhead & Bloodybones is available on Dust-to-Digital Records.
1. Merrywise (6:26)
2. Indians (0:39)
3. Jack and His Master (5:39)
4. Hale Family (0:54)
5. Greedy Bear (3:40)
6. Where Are You Going, Pretty Bird? (0:58)
7. Everlasting Water (5:50)
8. Rawhead & Bloodybones (10:33)
Bonus tracks (Instrumental Versions):
1. Merrywise (Instrumental) (6:16)
2. Jack and His Master (Instrumental) (5:42)
3. Greedy Bear (Instrumental) (3:31)
4. Everlasting Water (Instrumental) (5:49)
5. Rawhead & Bloodybones (Instrumental) (9:55)
Seven miles north of Hyden, Kentucky there’s a town called Dryhill. Locals know it also as Hell for Certain, or Hell-fer-Sartin, as you’ll find it spelled in South from Hell-fer-Sartin: Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales, the best-known book by folklorist Leonard Ward Roberts. The folk tales that Brian Harnetty samples in Rawhead and Bloodybones can be found there. Roberts collected his tales “on the north side of the Pine Mountain range,” driving from town to town in his jeep, fearing already in the late 1940s and early 1950s that the way of life keeping these old stories alive was about to disappear: “I had little difficulty in finding an electrical outlet for my tape recorder.” Roberts went to schools to record “informants,” as he calls them. At the school in Hyden, he found Jane Muncy, aged 11, who’d heard “Merrywise” from the grandmother raising her, and Janis Moran, 12, who tells “Jack and His Master” for us here seventy years later.
In the back of his book Roberts lists parallel stories and versions for the tales and catalogs their motifs, following the Aarne-Thompson classification system. The source texts are mostly English and Anglo-Celtic, with splashes of German and French. Grimm and Perrault are regularly cited. Scholars will want to know these things, but it is the idioms and rhythms and timbre of the telling, the encounter between language and voice that Roland Barthes famously described as “the grain of the voice” that must have mattered most to Harnetty as he embraced these tales. Repetition and symmetries ease their telling, as with all oral traditions, and the music recognizes this: if it’s gold combed out of the good girl’s hair it’s snakes and frogs falling from the bad girl’s. Then there are the journeys with much to endure—hiding from Jack and His Master in a blood-hole, only to have the severed ring finger from an old woman they’ve captured land in your lap. Or you are lowering your bucket in the well and fish up skulls that want to chant for you: “Wash me dry me lay me down.” Nobody is the least bit perturbed by these gruesome happenings, least of all the narrators who rattle off the tales with such precocious professionalism. Jane and Janis are obviously delighted to be performing for their audience, for the tape recorder of Roberts. Their tales tell us that human butchery and sudden death exist side by side with goodness and luck, and they celebrate the resourcefulness and courage that used to be called pluck: “I told you to get out of my water bucket and hush” one heroine says to a chattering skull. Harnetty’s music is equally calm and nuanced and wise in its response, as practiced as its models, which include not only these voices but also the fiddle music that cranks up in occasions for performance so very long ago and once upon a time but present for us again here.
- Keith Tuma, 2015
Samples: All samples are used with permission from the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives.
Hiram Stamper, fiddle and banjo, “Lonesome Road" and “Roll on John"; Manon Campbell, fiddle, “Indian in the Woodhen”; Jackie Helton, banjo, “Brave Lieutenant”; I.D. Stamper, dulcimer, “Redwing” and “John Henry”
Folk Tales: Jane Muncy Fugate, “Merrywise,” Rawhead & Bloodybones”; Janis K. Morgan, “Jack and His Master”; Estill South, “Greedy Bear”; Felix Turner, “Everlasting Water”
Collections Used: Leonard Roberts (1, 3, 5, 8); John Harrod (2, 6); William Tallmadge (4); Bruce Greene (1, 3, 5, 7, 8)
Brian Harnetty: Rhodes piano, bells, vibraphone, banjo, accordion
Jeremy Woodruff: Flute, saxophone
Alex Murphy: Trumpet
Matt Ogborn: Viola
Special thanks to: Robert and Jane Muncy Fugate, and Lynneda Denny and the family of the Leonard Roberts Trust.
Mastering: Todd Carter, Experimental Sound Studio, Chicago
Images: Courtesy of the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives