Monday, March 16, 2009

Handsome Molly

Here is a fun old-time song. This is just one of its many versions, some are sung in a sad way, this one is peppy like a dance tune. It has some "floating verses" -verses that are commonly found in other ballads as well, borrowed back and forth between traditional ballads. The same or similar melody is used in a couple other ballads as well...

I've put it in CGG instead of DAA, so I could sing it better. I want you to notice that although the tuning appears to be for C ionian (CGG), the song begins and ends on a G note on the open string, and generally sounds as though it is in the key of G. So we are playing the song as though it was in G reverse-mixolydian tuning. Maybe it really is in G?...yet it also sounds to my ear as though it's in C. (doh!) In my years of playing clawhammer banjo, I noticed that there are some old-time tunes that you play out of one key even though you are tuned for a different key. Even the fiddlers sometimes aren't sure whether they are in the one key or the other- the tune Rye Straw is one example. I've never been able to exactly figure out the actual reasons for all this, so if anyone has any helpful information or corrections on this, please feel free to jump in!

In any case, even without understanding what's going on with the keys here, I simply found that this song works well for me in this tuning. It's easy enough to tune to (just get into DAA and tune all strings DOWN one step to CGG) and then follow the tab.
It's a fun song. It was a sung ballad first documented by Cecil Sharp in Virginia in 1918, then made popular by Grayson and Whitter's energetic 1927 stringband recording. Enjoy!

One of my personal favorite dulcimer players, Ken Rice ("FlintHill") of Pennsylvania, has worked out a slightly different and very beautiful version of Handsome Molly using his fingerpicking technique. He explains his picking method clearly on his YouTube clip of Handsome Molly, HERE- be sure to watch it! To play either Ken's version or my tabbed version, you simply need to be in any typical ionian tuning, such as DAA or CGG.

Lastly, here is a short clip of myself playing and singing this fine old ballad on my dulcimer:

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