Filed Under:

For The Bloodiest Tales In American Music, A Revenge-Themed Sequel

Play associated audio

"Old Time Angels," a new song by Nashville, Tenn.-based singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale, sounds so ebullient that at first, you may not realize he's singing about one of music's most terrifying moments.

The wandering "spirit" referenced in the opening verse is "The Knoxville Girl," the unfortunate star of an Appalachian murder ballad based in part on a 19th century American true crime story. In the original song — widely recorded, perhaps most famously by The Louvin Brothers — the girl is lured to a secluded spot and then killed, brutally, by the narrator. In Lauderdale's song, she comes back from the grave for revenge.

The Knoxville Girl, Pretty Polly, Little Sadie and Darlin' Cory all make a ghostly appearance in "Old Time Angels." Lauderdale gives these characters some of their power back by putting one of the implements of their demise into their spectral hands. Pretty Polly, who was stabbed through the heart by her paramour, wields the shovel that he used to dig her shallow grave. Little Sadie becomes the driver of her own hearse, and so on.

Lauderdale's song doesn't just avenge the Old Time Angels — after all, murder ballads are often morality tales. Most of the killers in these stories have already met with justice: They're executed, or they're haunted by their prey, or they go insane. Instead, Lauderdale resurrects these angels to breathe life back into them, immortalizing them as victors, not victims. In so doing, he recasts the women of murder ballads as guardians of the present — and future.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Remains In Jamestown Linked To Early Colonial Leaders

Scientists from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation say they've identified four men buried in the earliest English church in America.
WAMU 88.5

The Democracy Of The Diner

Whether the decor is faux '50s silver and neon or authentic greasy spoon, diners are classic Americana, down to the familiar menu items. Rich, poor, black, white--all rub shoulders in the vinyl booths and at formica counters. We explore the enduring appeal and nostalgia of the diner.

WAMU 88.5

D.C. Council Member David Grosso

D.C. Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Education David Grosso joins us to discuss local public policy issues, including the challenges facing D.C. Public Schools.

NPR

Researchers Warn Against 'Autonomous Weapons' Arms Race

Already, researcher Stuart Russell says, sentry robots in South Korea "can spot and track a human being for a distance of 2 miles — and can very accurately kill that person."

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.