Songs of Seduction
Various Artists(Rounder 11661-1778-2)
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Alan Lomax went to England in 1950 and would remain there for eight years. During this time he and his colleagues traveled the British Isles gathering material in field recordings that would be released on the ten-volume set, Folk Songs of the British Isles. These songs would reintroduce traditional folk songs to a generation and help to spur on the folk revival in the 1960s. Songs Of Seduction was part of these recordings and proved, not surprisingly, to be the best seller of the set. What did surprise listeners was that these songs carried with them a cultural innocence quite at odds with post-Victorian thinking. It wasn't that the songs were "naughty"; it was the fact that the songs reached back to an earlier culture where sexual activity carried fewer social stigmas. Neither clandestine affairs nor pregnancy seem to be a cause for reproach in these songs. |
Rounder has now re-released Songs Of Seduction on CD with added tracks. The thirty-three tracks include female and male singers from Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland, singing, for the most part, without instrumental accompaniment. It also includes several lute, penny whistle, and uilleann bagpipe instrumentals.
The lyrics on Songs Of Seduction, relying on double entendres, leave little doubt about what the cobblers and milkmaids are up to. Although the men of these tales are often the seducers, the women are also fully capable of luring the men. In both cases, everyone seems to enjoy themselves with few regrets. The lyrics can seem almost romantic as on Jimmy Gilhaney's version of Blow The Candle Out. The young girl invites her lover in and tells him, "My father and my mother, next bedroom they do lie, Kissing and embracin', and why not you and I?" Harry Cox sings the more crude though humorous, The Long Peggin' Awl. When the mother admonishes her daughter for wanting to run away with a well endowed man, the daughter defends herself, saying: "Before you were sixteen, you very well know, There was father and mother and baby and all; You followed my dad, for his long peggin' awl."
Other standouts include Annie O Neil's, The Thrashing Machine, and Jeannie Robertson's, The Bonny Wee Lassie Who Never Said No. While songs performed by women are in the minority on this album, this collection is a fuller document due to their inclusion. A listener may find little shocking about men singing "dirty" pub songs. But to hear Robertson (on several cuts) and Neil sing these same songs seems to indicate a culture where female sexuality was treated more openly than those influenced by the Victorians.
Songs of Seduction comes with an informative booklet that provides background for individual songs, and offers a good context for enjoying the unaccompanied and stylized singing. The printed lyrics are particularly helpful to understanding words sung in unfamiliar accents. To the uninitiated, patient listening will be rewarded by a glimpse into a different worldview. Lomax and his compatriots have captured the art of numerous performers at a time when many of the old traditions on the British Isles were dying out or being transformed. In this respect, the album also serves as a historical document to these traditions and captures them as they stood in a historical moment. It also records these bawdy songs in a more truthful way than had been done before, allowing these ribald lyrics to stand without censorship. Songs Of Seduction is an important document of the musicians of the British Isles performing the music they love without shame.