THE POOR WAYFARING STRANGER:


It’s been a while since I just wrote about a song (the others are here and here), and even though this won’t actually get posted for a week or more, tonight is made for a night of meditating on “Wayfaring Stranger”. This weekend was horribly overshadowed by death with an internet/real life acquaintance losing his wife many decades before he should have, and our tech guru, Trevor, losing a pet. I know some of you have no idea how sad losing a pet can be, but anyone who’s ever lost a household pet knows how dark that grieving process can actually be. To both Don and Trevor I offer my deepest condolences, and in my own weird way I’m writing about this song for y’all.

“The Wayfaring Stranger” or “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, like most traditional folk songs, is of an unknown and oft-disputed origin. Depending on who you ask, the song’s origins are Appalachian Folk, Old Irish, or Catskills Folk, with some even theorizing that its origins rest in the Negro Spirituals and that there was a deliberate concealment of the song’s origins. Based on my own limited knowledge and experience from researching other traditional folk songs, I get the feeling that it either started in the slave fields of the old South or came to the Appalachian people via the Irish. Like most other traditional American folk songs there are thousands of variations of “Wayfaring Stranger”, which take great liberties in title, melody, harmony and lyrics. The version we’re most familiar with now was popularized in the middle of the twentieth century by musical researchers and performers such as Pete Seeger and Burl Ives.

The song tells of a wayfaring stranger’s hardships and struggles on this mortal coil and the final reward of reuniting with their loved ones in the afterlife. It has been covered by more people than you can shake a stick at, but here are some of my favorites:

The Standard:

Burl Ives – Wayfaring Stranger

My Favorites:

Scott H. Biram – Poor, Wayfaring Stranger
Laura Love – Poor Wayfaring Stranger
Strawfoot – Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger
Eva Cassidy – Wayfaring Stranger

The Best of the Rest:

16 Horsepower – Wayfaring Stranger
Doc WatsonMerle Watson – Wayfaring Stranger
Emmylou Harris – Wayfaring Stranger
Greenland is Melting – Wayfaring Stranger
Jack White – Wayfaring stranger
Johnny Cash – Wayfaring Stranger
Natalie Merchant – Poor Wayfaring Stranger
Neko Case – Wayfaring Stranger

LAURA LOVE AND ORVILLE JOHNSON – THE SWEETER THE JUICE


Whether a person likes Laura Love’s music or not, anyone who hears it inevitably comments on how fantastic her voice is. On a personal level, I think Laura is one of the best female performers traveling the country right now and it has been a painfully long time since we got to write about her here on ninebullets.

The Sweeter The Juice features Laura coupled with long time touring-mate Orville Johnson.  Laura has the unique ability to slide from pure bluegrass to straight hip-hop without a single person noticing. Orville is an exceptionally accomplished country blues slide guitar and mandolin player. Together, they make magic. The track listing holds a sampling of civil rights anthems and gospel staples, all performed in a bluegrass-meets-Laura’s-undeniable-funk manner. While those tracks are all magnificent, the real standouts on this album are Laura’s original songs “Load Up” and “Passin'”, the former of which features the richness of her voice that gives me chills every time I hear it.

Laura Love – Load Up / Eye’s On The Prize
Laura Love – Passin’
Laura Love – King Jesus / I’m Workin’ On A Building

Laura Love’s Official Site, Laura Love on myspace, Buy The Sweeter The Juice

spirituals, hollers and bluegrass music:

Last month I did a piece on Laura Love and mentioned that I was expect her new cd, NeGrass (pronounced: KNEE-grass), in the mail shortly. Well, I am here to make good on that word.

Upon learning her paternal grandmother was in the first generation of Texas ancestors born free Laura had the idea to make a bluegrass record spiced with traditional spirituals and Negro hollers. Negrass tells the story of Laura’s ancestors as she imagines it from the end of the civil war when they were being freed from slavery and stepping into a new, uncertain life. To do so Laura went to Nashville and hooked up with bluegrass instrumentalist and producer Tim O’Brien along with Tracy Nelson, Barbara Lamb, Scott Vestal, Jeff Autry, Rob Ickes, Mike Bub and Alice Vestal. One (me) wonders why Ms. Jen Todd was absent in the recording of this album. The result is a slightly different sound than we are used to from Ms. Love but not so different as to alienate long time fans. Besides, Laura could sing over techno and her voice would still make it wonderful (god damn that woman can sing).

While I’ll stop shy of calling this a concept album the end result does tell a cohesive story with each song holding it’s own within the track listing. The cd ends feeling like as much of a historical experience as it is a great listening experience. Furthermore, NeGrass, in my opinion, is probably Laura’s strongest release since 2000’s Fourteen Days.

Laura Love – Savin’
Laura Love – Angry Days
Laura Love – John Hardy

Laura Love’s Official Site, Buy NeGrass

Good news Tampa. While collecting the links for this piece I noticed that Laura is booked for an October 28 show at Skippers. If you’ve seen Laura live then I know you’ll be there. If haven’t ever had a chance to see her live don’t miss it!

Introducing: Laura Love


I close out the trifecta of female fronted bands with my favorite; Laura Love. I first heard Laura via my local community radio station‘s morning drive show. They were playing the song I Am Wondering on a daily basis and the more I heard it the more I wanted to hear it. Eventually I made my way over to the local record store and bought the album “Octoroon” and my love affair with Laura Love’s music began.

Laura Love was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and is the daughter of the jazz saxophonist, Preston Love and Wini Winston, a jazz singer. Her father abandoned the family while Laura was still an infant and Laura did not see him again until, at the age of 16, she snuck into a nearby club to see him play. For most of her childhood she had believed he was killed in an automobile crash as her mother had told her. In addition, her mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia that would often render her hospitalized and Laura would be moved into orphanages or foster homes. Her story and struggles are quite humbling and were released as a book entitled “You Ain’t Go No Easter Clothes” published by Hyperion books.

Laura’s music is best described as an afrocentric meshing of bluegrass, funk, and folk that is impossible not to move to. Lyrically her songs run the gamut from humorous, to political at times, sometimes personal, but always thought provoking. Then there is her voice. In a word I would have to describe her voice as amazing. Listening to her cover Nirvana’s Come As You Are and the a capella song Blind Bartimus off Octoroon literally gives me chills. You never know where the songs are going. One song she’ll be reciting nursery rhymes and the next she’ll be talking about watching her ass grow. All of this meshes into pure delight.

Laura’s travelling cast of characters includes Barbara Lamb on the fiddle, Chris Leighton on drums, Rod Cook and Julie Wolf on guitars. Laura’s voice is even better live, and the sheer joy and energy that comes from her during a show makes everyone in the crowd smile. Hopping and dancing while playing the bass and using creative Chaka Kahn melodies to introduce her band makes her shows a two hour party.

All of this is why Laura Love is my favorite female artist out there. While preparing this I discovered she had just released a new cd entitled, NeGrass (pronounced: KNEE-grass) on her personal label Octoroon Biography. Her website describes it as:

a collection of original and traditional Negro spirituals, field hollers and bluegrass music: Laura’s imagined history of how it might have been for her great grandparents as they were being released from slavery and stepping into a free, yet uncertain, life. This is a joyful and heartbreaking story.

I’ll be getting this cd shortly and look forward to posting a review. Check out her material below as I believe she is one of the best artists you have never heard of.

Laura Love – Octoroon (from the album Octoroon)
Laura Love – I am Wondering (from the album Octoroon)
Laura Love – Bad Feeling (from the album Octoroon)
Laura Love – Blind Bartimus (from the album Octoroon)

Laura Love – Hey Bigelow (from the album Fourteen Days)
Laura Love – Sometimes Davey Wins (from the album Fourteen Days)
Laura Love – Fourteen Days (from the album Fourteen Days)

Laura Love – Mahbootay (from the album Shum Ticky)
Laura Love – I’m a Givin’ Way (from the album Shum Ticky)
Laura Love – Shum Ticky (from the album Shum Ticky)

Laura Love’s Official Site, Buy Laura Love’s music

Here is a video of her performing a cover of Nirvana’s Come As You Are on Sessions @ West 54th. Her version is also available on her cd, Octoroon: