As Halloween approaches, ghosts and the unexplained, times and places where the lines between legend and reality, stories and myth and the daylight world seem to flicker and shimmer and at times, dissolve, come to mind. These things have come into play in song, too, in the Celtic traditions of Ireland and Scotland and in music that came across the water to North America from those lands.
Quite a few of these songs may have had origins in travel in the first place. It’s not been that long ago when it was common for someone set out on a journey, down the road or across the ocean, and never be heard from again. So there are songs about lovers who return, perhaps at the beloved’s bedroom door, perhaps in another sort of encounter, and the lover is delighted — until he or she finds that the person is a bit too pale and wan, and is really a ghost.
She Moved Through The Fair is both poetic and enigmatic, which Cara Dillon from Northern Ireland gives fine respect to in her version.
Another good ghost lover story is The Bay of Biscay, which John Doyle and Karan Casey offer a fine version of on their album Exiles Return.
Then there a those who are chased by spirits. Scottish bard Robert Burns wrote a lively tale of one such event in Tam o’Shanter, and fellow Scot Jim Malcolm gives it good voice, taking in both the humor and the spooky side of Tam’s late night ride.
The American west is the place for a haunting song about another sort of late night ride, sung by Johnny Cash: Ghost Riders In The Sky.
Murder lends itself to ghosts, as well. A spooky tale well handled by Canadian musicians Ian and Sylvia in The Greenwood Side tells of a woman’s encounter with the ghosts of those she’s done in. She asks them of her future, and struggles to take in what they tell her.
Seven years a fish in the flood
Seven years the tongue in the warning bell
And God save me from the flames of hell.
Rosanne Cash walks just the right line between matter-of-fact and haunting revelation in the tale of Long Black Veil on the album, The List.
Scots Julie Fowlis and Eddi Reader join up to trade verses in Scottish Gaelic and in English in a murder tale called Wind And Rain that results in the person’s bones making a fiddle which will, as you might expect, only play a haunting tune.
There are other ways to look at this season of connection with the unknown world, too. Consider Carrie Newcomer’s thoughtful song about walking with mystery called Ghost Train
Take a different walk with Emily Smith to a graveyard near her home in Scotland for an unexpected conversation in Audience Of Souls.
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