Saturday, January 23, 2010

There's Something About Mary: Mary of the Wild Moor

Bill Fox: Mary of the Wild Moor


Bill Box is not so much a folkie as he is a rocker who turned down the amps and got in touch with his inner singer-songwriter in the late '90s. His second (and so far last) solo album, Transit Byzantium is full of gritty introspection delivered in the cracked voice of a former rocker. The lone cover on the album is the traditional English folk song "Mary of the Wild Moor".

It's an interesting song: A woman and her young child arrive at her father's house after an unspecified time roaming "without friends or a home". One can infer that the woman bore the child out of wedlock, and was driven away from home by shame (and/or her father). Her father doesn't hear her knock on the door, and she (and eventually the child) die from exposure. The father finds them the next morning and is wracked with grief. It's a typically morbid English folk ballad.

Like many such ballads, it crossed over the Atlantic to Appalachia, and into the county/folk tradition, with versions by Dolly Parton, the Louvin Brothers, and Johnny Cash, among others. Fox acquits himself admirably on his lo-fi version, accompanied by acoustic guitar, bass, harmonica, what sounds like handclaps.

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