Friday, May 19, 2017

Gold: Fields of Gold

Sting: Fields of Gold


When I first heard Fields of Gold, I thought I was hearing a traditional English folk song that had somehow escaped my notice. I am no expert, but surely I would have heard someone’s version of a song this good before this? The song features the repetition of alternating lines “fields of barley” and fields of gold” in a way that can be found in many traditional English songs. But there was a reason I had not heard the song before. Fields of Gold is a Sting original, although it shows a strong knowledge of English folk music. This is a side of Sting he had not really shown before. We knew he loved rock and reggae from the sound of his band the Police. On his first solo album, Sting returned to his jazz roots. Since then, he has explored classical music and continued to make his own brand of what must be called pop for lack of a better term. Fields of Gold is the only original folk song of his that I have heard, but it really works. I could hear in my head a more “traditional” arrangement the first time I heard it.

Eva Cassidy: Fields of Gold


In searching for such a version, my first stop was Eva Cassidy’s version. Here we can ignite a whole argument about what is and is not “folk”. Cassidy didn’t care. While she is a revered figure among folk fans, her music is not purely folk. She drew songs from a rich array of genres and sources, and her arrangements were not always what one might consider folk. But if you consider the role that folk music served in society when the songs we are most familiar with were being written, you realize that songs like Froggy Went A’Courting were the pop music of their day. On that basis, any song is fair game, and it is the job of any modern folk artist to make their choice of songs their own. Eva Cassidy did that job brilliantly.

Richard Bennett: Fields of Gold


Still, I wanted to see if I could find an even folkier version without sacrificing either quality or authenticity. Bennett’s Fields of Gold still isn’t what I heard in my head. For that I would need an Irish singer, backed by just guitar and uillean pipes. But Bennett does the next best thing, giving me a small acoustic ensemble, and featuring the cello in the role I assigned to the piper. Bennett’s voice is perfect here. Like Cassidy, Bennett takes his material from a wide range of sources, and he too makes his songs his own.

Fields of Gold has become a standard since Sting wrote it. You can find multiple versions on Amazon by looking either for wedding music or lullabyes. There are also many covers of varying quality and in various genres. So the song may have started life as a Sting original, but I would argue that the place it has taken in our culture now qualifies it as a folk song.

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