Exclusive : Uplifting narratives of women in traditional song from Lindsay Straw

The plight of women in traditional ballads is often quite dark. Originally, these ballads dealt with the hard realities of everyday life in the old ages, but as time drew on, the narratives fractured and blurred, and the result is that many ballads today read like strange dreams. Bizarre delusions where the women come to brutal ends, passive victims of random violence from young men.

When young New England ballad singer, Lindsay Straw, set out to record her new album, The Fairest Flower of Womankind, she decided to dig deep to find other, more uplifting, narratives of women in traditional song. With help from Club Passim’s Iguana Grant, which provides funds to young traditional musicians, she began discovering that there were many more ballads to be found in which women played a larger, more triumphant role.

“It basically started with one song, "Geordie", and me thinking to myself, ‘I wonder if there are more traditional songs like this where the woman saves the day,’ Straw explains. “There's definitely some relativism and context to be kept in mind - what might be a win in 1800's folksong terms might not be a win to most women today! But within the songs, all the women triumph in some form, either by saving themselves by outsmarting their male counterpart(s), saving their lover or sister, establishing their own careers and independent lives, or making an honest man out of the erstwhile lover (or taking revenge!).”

We have an exclusive track from the album called The Crafty's Maid Policy. Lindsay provides some insight.

"The Crafty Maid's Policy is an old broadside ballad learned from Frankie Armstrong's album Lovely on the Water. Frankie's albums as well as her book My Song Is My Own were sources for several of the songs on my album, and this is probably my favorite one. The arrangement came about over a few rehearsals with fiddler Armand Aromin and concertina player Ben Gagliardi, who are featured on the track. I remember struggling with the overall feel and arrangement until one of them suggested adding the Scottish rhythmic snappiness. I love backing Irish tunes as well as combining songs with tune sets. This one very naturally transitioned into a strathspey Ben suggested, then on to the reel."

Sourcing these old songs from artists like British folk singers June Tabor and Frankie Armstrong, Scottish traveller Lizzie Higgins, and a host of dusty songbooks, Straw weaves these different narrative threads into a tapestry that shows the power of women in traditional Celtic song, dating back hundreds of years.

Ballads have been a source of inspiration for Lindsay Straw since her childhood in Montana, but she truly grew into the art while studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There she began to tie together the threads of the traditions she was most passionate about: English, Scottish, Irish and American songcraft. She also founded a young Celtic trad band at the college, The Ivy Leaf, which she draws from to fill out the music on her new album, The Fairest Flower of Womankind. In addition to her own sensitive, agile accompaniment on guitar and bouzouki, Straw is joined by members of The Ivy Leaf, Daniel Accardi (fiddle), Armand Aromin (fiddle), and Benedict Gagliardi (concertina, harmonica), plus renowned Maine guitarist Owen Marshall (The Press House). Throughout, Straw’s tender vocals and careful arrangements draw out the inner depths of these old songs, telling tales of women from beyond the ages. A ballad needs commitment to be told, a belief in the importance of its story. Straw proves that these stories ring with inspiration even today. Source : Hearth Music

The Fairest Flower of Womankind will be released on 28th April 2017 and you can purchase it on Bandcamp as well as on Lindsay's website www.lindsaystraw.com

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