While there are several good country and folk songs about sinking ships including Johnny Horton’s “Sink the Bismarck” and Woody Guthrie’s song about the USS Reuben James (torpedoed in October ’41), today we’ll be concentrating on ships that weren’t attacked. It’s slightly cheerier.
This one’s from the trio’s self-titled album. It’s a story about a lighthouse keeper who falls in love. It doesn’t end well: her ship is tossed around on a stormy sea and she finally meets her end after being dashed upon the rocks. Then he flings himself off the lighthouse’s edge. (YouTube)
“Titanic” is also known as “God Moves on the Water,” recorded in 1929 by Blind Willie Johnson. The Boston-based Sacred Shakers, which include Eilen Jewell, turn the blues song into a pretty cool rootsy/alt-country groove.
This song, which is also known as “The Daemon Lover,” or “James Harris” is a Child Ballad. Basically, if some guy offers to take you away on his fleet of well-stocked ships, don’t leave your babies and your carpenter husband and go. That guy is (in many versions of the song, anyway) the devil, and when the ship sinks, you’re bound for hell. If you’re lucky, you just sink to the bottom of the sea. Numerous artists have covered this song (Tim O’Brien’s “Demon Lover” on Two Journeys is fantastic), but I think my favorite version comes from Joan Baez.
“Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is such a wonderful song, and bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice’s cover is flawless. The album it’s on, Church Street Blues, also includes “House Carpenter” if you’re interested in a twofer.
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.