We have a very special premiere today from New England ballad singer, Lindsay Straw. As you can read in Lindsay’s own words below, it was thanks to Topic Records Voice of the People that she came across the singing of Scottish traveller Lizzie Higgins from whom she learned The Forester. Last year we had the good fortune to interview Anne Briggs who told me that in ’62 and ’63 she had “met and worked with several Scottish travellers who were singers or musicians, the Stewart family from Blairgowrie, also Jeannie Robertson, Sheila Stewart and Lizzie Higgins.” She added, “The women were all singers of exceptional quality.” I’m sure you’ll agree that Lindsay’s carrying on that fine tradition.
Lindsay Straw on The Forester:
Shortly after falling in with the Irish music crowd, I came upon the Voice of the People collections where I discovered the singing of Lizzie Higgins. Something about her deeply passionate, rich voice, and diverse repertoire all struck me, and for a time I got really into her music and methodically learned a lot of her repertoire. “The Forester” was one of the first “lady gets the upper hand” songs I ever became aware of. Though I loved the song, I was always a little confused about the story line until I did research and found other versions (mostly under the title “The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter”) that filled in the gaps. I tried to do my best to combine them, preserving the bulk of Lizzie’s rendition and taking new favourite lines and verses from The Ballad Book to create an arrangement that tells the whole story.
The plight of women in traditional ballads is often quite dark. Originally, these ballads dealt with the hard realities of everyday life in the old ages, but as time drew on, the narratives fractured and blurred, and the result is that many ballads today read like strange dreams. Bizarre delusions where the women come to brutal ends, passive victims of random violence from young men. When young New England ballad singer, Lindsay Straw, set out to record her new album, The Fairest Flower of Womankind, she decided to dig deep to find other, more uplifting, narratives of women in traditional song. With help from Club Passim’s Iguana Grant, which provides funds to young traditional musicians, she began discovering that there were many more ballads to be found in which women played a larger, more triumphant role. “It basically started with one song, “Geordie”, and me thinking to myself, ‘I wonder if there are more traditional songs like this where the woman saves the day,’ Straw explains. “There’s definitely some relativism and context to be kept in mind – what might be a win in 1800’s folksong terms might not be a win to most women today! But within the songs, all the women triumph in some form, either by saving themselves by outsmarting their male counterpart(s), saving their lover or sister, establishing their own careers and independent lives, or making an honest man out of the erstwhile lover (or taking revenge!).” Sourcing these old songs from artists like British folk singers June Tabor and Frankie Armstrong, Scottish traveller Lizzie Higgins, and a host of dusty songbooks, Straw weaves these different narrative threads into a tapestry that shows the power of women in traditional Celtic song, dating back hundreds of years.
Ballads have been a source of inspiration for Lindsay Straw since her childhood in Montana, but she truly grew into the art while studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There she began to tie together the threads of the traditions she was most passionate about: English, Scottish, Irish and American songcraft. She also founded a young Celtic trad band at the college, The Ivy Leaf, which she draws from to fill out the music on her new album, The Fairest Flower of Womankind. In addition to her own sensitive, agile accompaniment on guitar and bouzouki, Straw is joined by members of The Ivy Leaf, Daniel Accardi (fiddle), Armand Aromin (fiddle), and Benedict Gagliardi (concertina, harmonica), plus renowned Maine guitarist Owen Marshall (The Press House). Throughout, Straw’s tender vocals and careful arrangements draw out the inner depths of these old songs, telling tales of women from beyond the ages. A ballad needs the commitment to be told, a belief in the importance of its story. Straw proves that these stories ring with inspiration even today.
The Fairest Flower of Womankind is out on April 28, 2017
US Tour Dates
Apr 7 | Manchester, NH: British Beer Company, 8:30-11:30pm, no cover
Apr 8 | Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Winter Farmers Market, 12-2pm
Apr 21 | Salem, MA: O’Neill’s with Larry Young, 6-9pm, no cover
Apr 23 | Cambridge, MA: Kickstarter Reward Private House Concert
Apr 26 | Portland, ME: Irish Night at Blue PORTLAND CD RELEASE! w/ Owen Marshall, 7:00pm, suggested donation
Apr 27 | Marblehead, MA: French + Italian (shop) Spring Event, 4:30-8:00pm
Apr 29 | Waltham, MA: Brandeis Folk Festival, 12-12:45pm, no cover
May 11 | Providence, RI: 186 Carpenter PROVIDENCE CD RELEASE! w/ The Vox Hunters, 7:30pm, $10 cover
May 28 | Cambridge, MA: Club Passim’s campfire. festival – In the Round, 3-4:20pm
Jun 6 | Cambridge, MA: Club Passim BOSTON CD RELEASE! w/ The Vox Hunters, 8pm, $15/13 cover
Jun 10 | Cambridge, MA: Club Passim Live Music Brunch, 10:00am-1:30pm, no cover
Jun 15 | Willimantic, CT: Willimantic 3rd Thursday Street Fest w/ The Ivy Leaf, 6:00-7:15pm
Jul 1 | Marblehead, MA: Marblehead Farmers Market, 9:15-11:30pm
Jul 6 | Belmont, MA: Belmont Farmers Market, 2pm
Jul 15 + 16 | Belfast, ME: Maine Celtic Celebration, time slots TBD
Jul 23 | Cambridge, MA: Club Passim Live Music Brunch, 10:00am-1:30pm – no cover
Aug 3 | Salem, MA: Salem Farmers Market, 5-7pm
Aug 12 | Winchester, MA: Winchester Farmers Market, 12:15-1:30pm
Aug 13 | Winthrop, MA: Winthrop Farmers Market, 11:30am-2pm
Sept 5 | Cambridge, MA: Club Passim’s Kendall Square Concert Series, 12-1pm – free!
Sept 16 | Braintree, MA: Braintree Farmers Market, 9am-1pm
Sept 30 | Winchester, MA: Winchester Farmers Market, 11:00am-12:15pm