Magazine article Acoustic Guitar

A Child Ballad with Bite

Magazine article Acoustic Guitar

A Child Ballad with Bite

Article excerpt

"Matty Groves," also known as "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard," is one of the most enduring English folk ballads, dating back to the 17th century. As with many folk songs, the details vary from version to version, but the basic narrative remains the same: a lord's wife takes advantage of her husband's absence to have a tryst with a plebian, only to be ratted out by a servant before a violent end ensues.

"Matty Groves" has been widely recorded, by everyone from Joan Baez to Doc Watson to Tom Waits. (Long before they were the Grateful Dead, bassist Phil Lesh taped this English ballad with guitarist Jerry Garcia on a home recorder.) But the song is perhaps most closely associated with Fairport Convention, who recorded it on 1969's Liege & Lief- an album considered by some to have marked the beginning of the English folk-rock movement.

The song-one of the so-called Child Ballads included in Francis James Child's 19th-century compilation of English, Scottish, and American folk ballads-is known to have as many as 30 verses, but this arrangement, which is inspired by the Fairport Convention version (before it goes into an instrumental jam), includes a mere 19. …

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