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commercial performers – some popular, oth- ers obscure – from the 1960s to the present day, borrowing from genres as diverse as Cape Breton, singer-songwriter, bluegrass, country, torch song and rap. The fiddle- and podorhythm-based bands of Prince Edward Island, such as Vishten and the sadly defunct Barachois, will appeal particularly to read- ers here, but anyone seeking a definitive Acadian roots music style to compare with Cajun or Québécois will come away disap- pointed. It’s bitty and poorly-edited, but useful as a reference work containing some quirky nuggets.


Brian Peters


The Land Of The Green Man: A Journey Through the Supernatural Landscapes Of The


British Isles Carolyne Larrington IB Tauris & Co Ltd (ISBN 978-1-78076-991-2)


Britain is a storied land. There’s hardly a cor- ner without a tale or two to its name. Pro- truding hills, unusual outcrops, gullies and rivers: all come with legends attached of gods and giants, elves and water horses, black dogs and green knights. Mainstream culture is rather nonplussed by this legacy from the past, regarding it, if at all, with curiosity and perhaps even a little embarrass- ment, consigning it to a more childish stage of our collective evolution. The sentimentali- ty of Victorian folklore collectors, and their eagerness to bowdlerise away all traces of lusty rumbustiousness, may be to blame. Then again, the tales themselves are often narratively unsatisfying, meandering along to an anticlimactic ending. The florid books of legends and lore one picks up on holiday don’t help, tending to be as overwritten as their stories are peculiar.


Into this sullen state of affairs rides Car- olyne Larrington, who, with a light touch and a scholar’s erudition, takes us on a thrilling tour of this neglected cultural land- scape. She has the storyteller’s gift, and in her capable hands the legends gleam again like pebbles thrust back into the sea. By deal- ing with her material thematically, rather than geographically, she artfully steers


around its inherent narrative problems. She explores, not just the legends as they have come down to us, but their reappearance in literature, music, television and film. So in one chapter she connects supposed sightings of black dogs in East Anglia – ‘Black Shuck’, as immortalised by rockers, The Darkness – with Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the the Wild Hunt from Norse mythology. The works of Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Tolkien, CS Lewis and JK Rowling are all teased apart to reveal the fertile matrix of folk stories from which they grew. While there are plenty of stories that will be familiar to folk enthusiasts – Tam Lin, Thomas the Rhymer, Cherry of Zennor, the Loathly Lady, and so on – there are plenty that won’t. I was especially grateful for her inclusion of Anglo-Saxon material, most of which was quite new to me.


Above all she argues that our folk leg-


ends matter. They “offer particular kinds of answers… to very large questions through a kind of metaphorical thinking…” They “show us what’s really important in an unfamiliar light”. If this is something that balladeers and storytellers have been saying for years, then it’s still extremely welcome to have an Oxford scholar making the case. That she does so in such an enjoyable and readable way makes this an indispensable read.


www.ibtauris.com Andy Letcher Hear My Sad Story


Richard Polenberg Cornell University Press (ISBN 978-1-5017-0002-6)


Retired Cornell University history professor Richard Polenberg chronicles, as the subtitle has it, “The True Tales That Inspired Stagolee, John Henry, and Other Traditional American Folk Songs.” Notwithstanding Polenberg’s professional background, I anticipated a com- prehensive treatment of the origin and evo- lution of familiar ballads. While there is some of that, this is a work of social history, not of ethnomusicology.


In Polenberg’s view vernacular songs are the voice less of individual tradition car- riers than of broad cultural experience. Tak- ing up a particular ballad, work chant, or labour protest, each chapter encases the lyrics within the lived-in reality that brought them to expression and gave them


meaning. The effect is to alter one’s under- standing – one’s hearing, too – of chestnuts like Wreck Of The Old 97 about a hideous real-life train disaster near Danville, Vir- ginia, in September 1903, that killed eleven, not just the engineer ‘Steve’ (Joseph ‘Steve’ Broady), the hero of the narrative. The tragedy occurred, Polenberg notes, in a year when “9,840 [American] men, women, and children died in train crashes, or because of other rail mishaps.” Transformed into a popular hit in the 1920s, Wreck later gener- ated a long-running legal dispute over claims to authorship.


Polenberg reminds us that the events recounted in ballads (sometimes with startling accuracy; for example, Tom Dula [Dooley] really did swear he “never harmed a hair on poor Laurie’s head”) underwent after-histories. Convicted of shooting police officer James Brady to death in 1890 S Louis, Harry Duncan’s case went all the way to the Supreme Court before the Duncan And Brady character was executed in 1894. Sadly, Dun- can may have been innocent.


Southern racism repeatedly and unsur- prisingly appears throughout the text. Morris (Railroad Bill) Slater, who pursued his chosen profession (robbery, murder) in late 19th Cen- tury Alabama, was a genuinely dangerous criminal. White cops who pursued him, how- ever, treated any potentially ‘suspicious’ black man as culpable. Polenberg quotes one con- temporary account: “The number of negroes who were killed under the impression that they were Slater will never be known.” On the other hand, Betty Anderson and Frank Dupre (Betty And Dupree), who happened to be white even though the ballad was an African American favourite, appear to have been simply dim of wit, the hapless authors of their own fate.


On occasion Polenberg loses sight of the song. The chapter on House Of The Rising Sun is so taken up with prostitution and poverty in New Orleans that it fails to note that House is of almost certain English origin. I guess you will have to learn that elsewhere, for example in Ted Anthony’s Chasing the Ris- ing Sun (2007). You won’t mind, though. Polenberg writes engagingly about the Cres- cent City at the turn of the last century, as he does about everything he addresses in this entertaining and enlightening book.


cornellpress.cornell.edu Jerome Clark


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