The other night I was watching that documentary about country music, and one of the central characters of the episode was Dolly Parton. She talks about her song “Jolene,” as do other people, putting it in the context of the time, and in the context of country music in general. But I sat up and listened, hard, because I was hearing something else.
The tune kept hanging around, but not quite the way she does it. And there was a sense of supernatural. The melody has a definite Celtic sense, and I was trying to come up with the folk tune. Since my memory has a huge stash of folk ballads stuffed into odd places, it didn’t take too many hours before the solution popped up.
It’s this setting of “Cruel Mother” or “Greenwood Sidie.” (Better acapella version at the bottom of the post).
My mother sang this to me as a lullaby with slightly different lyrics, and I listened to another recording of this version (Odetta? Judy Collins but with this tune? Nope, Ian and Sylvia) a lot growing up, enough that I remember it very well, and sing it from time to time. It is creepy, and the element of supernatural is very strong.
So Dolly Parton did not copy the tune, but she caught the “sense” of the tune. Which explains why I thought about a supernaturally beautiful woman as Jolene.
Well, the old ballad, and because my mind latches onto story fodder far too easily.
Ian and Sylvia: