I suspect that some of you brilliant people could write a scholarly essay on murder ballads and how they fit into the folk music tradition.
All I know is that this is an art form that's been around a long, long time. And still today murder ballads are being written and performed.
I love them for the stories they tell, their drama and intensity, and how exquisite music, voice and lyrics combine to heighten the tale-telling, make it breathe.
I love the art form's lack of irony, ennui or elliptical meanings—it's life and death in these songs. They feel like core stories about the good and ill in humans; stories that folk have been telling for millennia. Cautionary tales about the most powerful and destabilizing of emotions: jealousy, fear, love, passion, rage and grief. Inspiring stories of struggle and courage.
I love them thrice because they emanate a sense of timelessness and the mythic...these stories, and these characters, have taken many shapes and iterations. You can glimpse in them fairy tales, legends, folklore, myths, stories from the Bible, maybe even the cave paintings of Lascaux.
As we listen to the tales unfold, it's as if we sit around the village fire, together fearing for the characters in danger, uplifted by flashes of heroism. We empathize with their hardship, their life and death struggle.
They are like people we've known. They are like us.
It is winter here in the northern hemisphere, the long dark; it is time for tales by the fire. Listen....