Its the time of year when folks like to do a little dance with death or play at horror. I’ve never been attracted to scary movies, stories or even Hallow’s Eve for that matter. However, when it comes to music, I have found a couple artists and performances that chill me. To. The. Bone.
In 1927, Moran Lee “Dock” Boggs recorded a couple songs that creep me out in a big way. “Pretty Polly” is his version of an old murder ballad sung in the British Isles and Appalacia . Listen to it here.
Something about how he twists the syllables around, the intensity of the rhythm and the just plain wierdness of his voice make it hard to listen to. But, the twisting sounds comical in an eerie way, the rhythm seems too fast and the timbre of voice is too high in a way for the seriousness of the lyrics. So, what reads in print like it wouldn’t work, worked too well on shellac. Like, that’s what a demented murderer with a banjo would sound like. We have a later recording of it available at Fowler.
In the late 1920’s a Delta bluesman by the name of Skip James perfected his style of fingerpicked acoustic guitar matched with an eerie falsetto and gloomy lyrics. We have his original sides recorded for Paramount Records in the early ’30s at the DPL. Check out “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” here. The aural equivalent to the Dust Bowl-era photography of Dorothea Lange.