Category Archives: Public Domain

Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music

For someone interested in the roots of American Music, the Ur-document is Harry Smith’s collection of recordings, re-released in turn by Folkways records. When still learning his chops as a folk singer when first living in New York City, Bob Dylan crashed on a friend’s couch and spent time absorbing the contents of this 1952 record series. It’s a collection brimming with styles, traditions and tales. The set starts in fine form with the murder ballad Henry Lee, later covered by Nick Cave. We can assume the little bird in the story is a jealous girl, and for having a favorite girl in his “merry green land” poor little Henry Lee had to die. One wonders since the merry greenness of his land was mentioned if a bad stretch of weather resulting in some hard times for the little bird’s people might have been at least part of the motivation. Or maybe Henry was simply being sentimental. Either way, it’s a startling story, allegorical in style, and chilling to the core. Below check out Nick Cave’s version of the song.