"Wayfaring Stranger" is a standard in the folk music catalog, dating back to the 19th century. A religious ballad, it gained new meaning during the 1930s, with lyrics seemingly reflecting the plight of the displaced and homeless -- poor wayfaring strangers, "traveling through this world of woe." In the 1940s, it became a signature tune for Burl Ives, who named both his autobiography and radio program after it.
"Wayfaring Stranger" remains an oft-recorded song -- an iTunes search brings up more than 400 matches. Here are two distinctly interpretations.
The first is strictly traditional, performed by Maria McKee on the Songcatcher soundtrack album. It is one of McKee's finest vocal performances, in a recording career full of them.
The second is by Jerry Reed. Thanks to his novelty records and good-ol'-boy persona honed in movies like Smokey and the Bandit and The Waterboy, Reed's many fine records of the 1960s and early '70s have sadly been forgotten. Among the most interesting is 1967's Jerry Reed Explores Guitar Country, on which he reworks a dozen folk and pop classics. Reed's "Wayfaring Stranger" starts with his signature acoustic guitar picking. Soon, a Hammond organ joins in, and Reed's playing gets jazzy, and he even offers up some scat singing. His unique take is a reminder that standards can not only be honored, but reinterpreted as well.