Ghost Travelers in Song

Heaven´s Gate

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 bird in the wood
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.

As a policy of A Traveler’s Library, we tell you about affiliate links. The links included here may make it possible for you to listen to excerpts of the music, and the ones to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. If you buy anything through the affiliate links in this post, you will be supporting the site Music Road and A Traveler’s Library . Thank you.

That fabulous photo at the top is from Flickr and used with Creative Commons license. You can click here to learn more about the photographer, H. Kopp Delaney, and look at more of his photographs. He lives by donations, if you care to reward his artistry.


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About Kerry Dexter

Kerry Dexter is a regular contributor to A Traveler’s Library, bringing her knowledge of music and musicians who share a sense of place and travel. Her work also appears in Journey to Scotland and the Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, among other places. Check out her bio on the contributor’s page to learn more and see her site at Music Road.

9 thoughts on “Ghost Travelers in Song

  1. Really provocative point to make that people simply “disappeared” in those days of slow, expensive travel and little affordable communication. Today, it’s almost impossible to disappear without a trace.

  2. Not about a literal ghost but Richard Thompson’s The Ghost of You Walks makes my list of haunting songs. And as the father of the British folk revival, he’d be a great addition to your wonderful list.

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