Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If I had a voice to sing

Let's get this straight right up front. Debra Cowan is a singer. She is not a songwriter. As a matter of fact, she often jokes that when she has tried to write songs they've been really, really bad. But that's OK because there's plenty of good songs, you just have to find them, and find them she does.

On her blog (which you can find at she describes herself as "A Folksinger singing good songs old and new." This is an apt, if modest, description as her repertoire ranges from ancient ballads, as you might find in the Child Collection, to contemporary songs by everyone from Ralph Stanley to Richard Thompson.

Not only am I not a songwriter, I am not a singer either. Oh, I might catch a low harmony every once in awhile, but that's about it. Debra's upcoming visit, Live at Noon this Friday, got me thinking, if I could sing, what songs might I choose. I'm not going to bore you with the whole list I came up with but I will share one with you.

Could I sing, I would choose the old ballad known as Matty Groves, Little Musgrave, Musgrove and Lady Barnswell, and dozens of other variants. To me it is a quintessential story of love, betrayal, and death. If this sort of ancient soap opera set to music appeals to you too, you can find a couple of sets of lyrics here:

In addition to the story itself which attacks me, I think the ballad is just full of great writing right from the moment that the lady, who in today's parlance might be called a cougar, picks up Matty to the show down when the lord, having found Matty in bed with his wife, not only call for Matty to fight but insists that Matty get in the first lick.

So Matty struck the very first blow and he hurt Lord Barnard sore
Lord Barnard struck the very next blow and Matty struck no more. 

You very seldom see that quality of poetry coupled with such incredible economy of verbiage these days.

Now what about you. Let's assume you could sing. Actually you probably can, so we don't have to assume anything. What song would you, or do you, choose to sing? And why that one? I don't want to leave you blog reading songwriters out either but let's change the game. What song do you wish you'd written? Go to it. That's what that comment box down there is for. And don't forget to tune in at Noon on Friday to hear Debra Cowan live in the studio.

- Dave Palmater

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