Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hard: Hard Times Come Again No More

Hard Times Come Again No More is a song that dates from well before the Great Depression, but it’s easy to see why you might not think so. The song is a secular hymn, a plea directed to the comfortable for compassion for those less fortunate. It speaks to times when those in power would have the poor and the middle class compete against each other, rather than risk us joining together to find common solutions to our problems. We are in such a time now, and the Great Depression was a period that brought about such a joining together for an all-too-short moment. The song, however, shows that the need for compassion is much older. Stephen Foster wrote Hard Times Come Again No More in 1854, and it became a favorite on both sides of the Civil War. In seeking out versions of the song for this post, I found that some of the best versions express the idea that none of us are alone in the way the song is arranged.

Jennifer Warnes: Hard Times Come Again No More


Jennifer Warnes finds a stark beauty in the song with the sparest arrangement here. She gets a small group of friends together for an a capella version that expresses solidarity with the sounds of human voices alone.

Mavis Staples: Hard Times Come Again No More


Mavis Staples is best known for her work with the Staples Singers, although her solo work has become better known lately. Either way, she is a gospel singer at heart. Even a secular song like this one becomes a prayer when she sings it. This jibes perfectly with Stephen Foster’s intent, and results in a powerful performance.

Nanci Griffith: Hard Times Come Again No More


Nanci Griffith makes a specific connection to the hard times that have been experienced by the Irish people. Her version includes notable Irish musicians such as Dolores Keane and Sharon Shannon. Griffith starts with a small ensemble, and gradually builds to the full arrangement, which is a great musical device for expressing the theme of the lyric.

Paolo Nutini and the Chieftains: Hard Times Come Again No More


Finally, I could not resist closing with the Chieftains’ version with Paolo Nutini. The universality of the theme of the song is still very much intact, but the Irish connection is now explicit. The Chieftains find a perfect fit for the song as an Irish ballad, and deliver a version that lingers after the last note. Stick around for the coda played on pipes and drums; it really takes this one home.

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