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/.

NPR

Risk Of Opioid Overdose Climbs At Middle Age

Most of the millions taking prescription painkillers are older than 45, research shows, and there's been a recent increase in drug overdose deaths among people over 55. Drug mixing is partly to blame.
NPR

Sugar Vs. Sugar: Which Crop Is More Environmentally Friendly?

Sugar is sugar, but it comes from very different crops. Half of the U.S. supply comes from sugar cane in the tropics and half from sugar beets, which grow where it's cold. NPR explores whether one version is better for the environment than the other.
NPR

House Speaker Paul Ryan Says He's Not Backing Trump — Yet

Don't add House Speaker Paul Ryan to the list of Republicans who are backing de facto GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. "I think he has to do more to unify this party," Ryan said.
NPR

'Captain America' Is Trending In Nigeria But You Might Be Surprised Why

Nigerian netizens are using the hashtag #CaptainAmericaInNigeria as a vehicle for cheeky social and political commentary.

Leave a Comment

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