One of my favourite sub-genres of music is the murder ballad, if it's a genre at all. For almost as long as we've been killing each other, we've been writing songs about it.
There is something about the darkness of these songs that seems to appeal to the human psyche and it's no coincidence that some of the oldest songs in the English song canon are murder ballads.
Murder ballads tend to fall into two loose categories, the victim songs and the protagonist songs. These are divided again by those based on real stories and those born of dark and fertile imaginations. Even those based on real events have had the stories adapted as time has moved on, so it's no coincidence that Paul Slade has decided to focus on American murder ballads.
One of the reasons for that is that although not all the songs covered in the book are within living memory, they do all come from within an era that was more heavily documented and yet even here there is space for uncertainty to get into songs.
Unprepared To Die really is a fascinating read. It covers both protagonist and victim songs and how with a tabloid sensationalism songs were written without letting the facts get in the way of a good story. Consequentially some murder ballads may even be maligning an innocent man, but I won't ruin it for you by saying who.
With at least one if the songs covered, there are still people alive that were alive when the events occurred. Similarly with songs being published, it's easy to identify original versions and see where the changes are happening.
What I also find exciting about Unprepared To Die, is the way Paul Slade mixes in interview with the narrative. You get to understand the songs from a musician's perspective, what was the essential essence that drew them to the song and their versions, fascinating.
The eight songs represented in the book cover many different aspects of murder and it's consequences and is a fascinating read from cover to cover and Paul Slade can be rightly proud of book and research.
It's a book that's well worth checking out or in this season of goodwill passing onto one of your musicologist friends. This is one of those tomes that will cut a way into your heart.
As it's the season of goodwill we've got a couple of copies to give away courtesy of the publisher, Soundcheck Books, so competition time. All you need to do to win a copy is to answer the following question and be one of the first two names drawn out of the hat on January 1st.
Bob Dylan, wrote of the lonesome death of Hattie Carroll, who killed her? Answer to:firstname.lastname@example.org
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