Your Favorite Traditional Ballad

I could only find a thread with "Power Ballads". I find myself drawn to more traditional ballads lately. Here are a few of my favorites:

1952 Vincent Black Lightening, Richard Thompson
The Ballad of the Runaway Horse, Emmylou Harris
Pretty much any of the traditionals as sung by Kate Rusby
Ballad of Copper Junction (a Journeyman's Lament), Jeffrey Foucault
Folklore (the entire album is favorite would have to be "The Outlaw Song"), 16 Horsepower

I respect how, with such an economy of words, a songwriter can engrave such deep and powerful stories that resonate and linger.

What are some of your favorites in traditional ballads?
Much of the work of Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

Michelangelo, by Emmylou. Red Dirt Girl, by Emmylou. Ben McCullough (sp?) by Steve Earle.
Auld Lang Syne.
The Water Is Wide
Emmylou has got this nailed, look no further.
Traditional? Or just more mainstream?

Arguably, any song telling a story could be called ballads, couldn’t they?

OK, so for the traditional (?) side …IMO

99 bottles of Beer on the Wall? ... maybe not, but it sure is traditional.

Irish Tenors version of ‘Danny Boy’.

lefty Frizzell’s – ‘Saginaw Michigan’.

“Seven Spanish Angels”, ‘Pancho & Lefty’

John Cash has plenty of them, “Wreck of the Old ‘97” & “big river” I like most though, with The Ballad of John Henry’ a long standing fav.


Will the Circle Be Unbroken

The Circle Game.

Non traditional, non mainstream… IMO

On Dar Williams, “Cry, Cry, Cry”, there are two very good ones, “Cold Missouri Waters”, and Ballad of mary Magdalen. “Shades of Grey” is also there, but it’s a lot of other places too.

KK wrote one called “Pilgrim ch 33” I like a lot.

Robin & Linda Williams. do one on their Sugar for Sugar album; called “The Cheapest Kind” I simply can’t hear too often.

Hank Jr. does one on a tribute album called the Tribute to Bocephus, The Songs of Hank W. Jr.’ entitled ‘Outlaws Reward’ that has some great harmonies.

How do you get past Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory”? or is that a rock anthem instead?

The ‘Boss’ does justice to some too… as on the tribute to John Cash, “Kindred Spirits” album with the cut entitled ‘Give My Love to Rose’.

‘Old Hippie’ Bellamy Brothers

Tom T. Hall – ‘Old Dogs, Children & Watermelon Wine’, Ballad of Forty Dollars

Ray Wylie hubbard – ‘Mississippi Flush’, and ‘Conversation with the Devil

Joe Ely – Gallo Del Cieilo & his version of R E Keen Jr. The Road Goes On Forever’ are super.

Charlie Sizemore does one called ‘Turn it On, Turn it On’ about a guy who didn’t make the WW II cut and sets out to quiet his more outspoken critics.

John Cash has plenty of them, “Wreck of the Old ‘97” & “big river” I like most though with The Ballad of John Henry’ a long standing fav.

Cross eyed Child., by John Hartford, talking about Bill Monroe’s early life.

Stephen Stills - Southern Cross

Monty & The Pythons – boys of ’44, RE WW II’s D Day investment.

Dereilers – ‘Play Me the Waltz of the Angels’.
Man, there are so many and to me, the diff between a good ballad and a great one is the emotional connection. So by that criterion, the list is highly personal. A few of my favorites:

Nancy Griffith's cover of Townes van Zant's Tecumseh Valley

EmmyLou Harris- Most anything from Angel Band if you are counting gospel. Otherwise (and more contemporary), Broken Man's Lament or Kern River.

Richard and Linda Thompson- Bee's Wing

Jackson Browne- After the Deluge (not a traditional ballad but a ballad nonetheless, IMO).

Patty Loveless- You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive

Dimming of the Day- lots of covers; maybe Bonnie Raitt or Richard Thompson.

Eddie From Ohio- Minnesota 1945

Vince Gill- Pretty Little Adriana

Michelle Shocked- Anchorage
Man, there are so many and to me, the diff between a good ballad and a great one is the emotional connection.

You hit on something there. Although when I look back on my list, though I am emotionally stirred by those songs, I do not necessarily have a strong direct connection to the stories being told. Yet they all do speak volumes to me and move me deeply. I have no connection to horses or cowgirls, or outlaws, or journeymen. Perhaps to riding motorcycles, but that's the only connection I find in my list. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you. Do you mean the emotional connection of the singer to the story? Certainly a story told with great passion and empathy is bound to connect more effectively. Regardless, I am definitely deeply moved by this music, and these stories told so often with such a great economy of words, yet speaking so much.

I don't know that just any old song that tells a story could be considered a ballad. I suppose technically it could. I don't know what it is that separates the cream from the milk, but I sure don't think that any song that tells a story is a great ballad. I guess my own take on them is that they tell the story of specific individuals, in a specific time and place. Though they may remain nameless, their stories are the source of the emotion and connection.

Great suggestions here thus far...thanks. I will check some of these out, while familiar with many as well.

A few more come to mind from frequent listening, that are perhaps more modern than traditional:

The Last of the Hobo Kings, Mary Gauthier
Making Pies, Patty Griffin
Johnny Cash...Emmylou for sure! Richard and Linda Thompson - oh yes!

Keep'em coming.
Well, let's not take the wickopedia definition of a ballad, or we are all far afield and likely sunk with the titles we've printed above.

Otherwise we'd have to list Robin Hood, instead of robin & Linda Williams... and any number of poetic works rooted in literature only.

The conotative theme we all followed so far is right... a story. In our case, set to music.

I think about all of Mountain Soul could qualify. That's such a good CD.

Nancy Griffith's Trouble in the Fields, gets my vote.

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald deserves a note.

harry Nilson's 'Taxi' (?) ...she gave me $20, and said, Harry, Keep the change..

paul Simon sure found a way to hit the pop vein with is ballads, hearts & Bones, Adios hermanos, etc.

if you haven't investigated the S.W. or other texan artists you should. RL Keen Jr, Billy Joe Shaver, Guy clark, Joe Ely, Delbert McClinton, etc.

Shaver's Randal Knife is just outstanding.

Two of the longest ones I can recall are Arlo's "Alice's Resturant", at one time a whole lot of folks had that one memorized completely.

Marty Robbins "El Paso" elevated his fame a lot... though on that album, 'utah Carrol' is the better story, er, ballad. That disc, like patti Loveless' is littered with them though.

No doubt. Wherever the connection is felt is the ticket. Be it likewise or similar experiences, the thrust of the music, simply the lyrics, the artists stylings, or the evocative nature of the song, it is what ever grabs ya.

Well... so much for traditional in the traditional sense... as there are no votes for Robin Hood yet, perhaps then "your favorite ballads".

I'm sure curious to hear from other's and check out those new to me tunes, post haste.

Great thread! Thanks much.
Leadbelly "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?"
'Traditional' ballads - i.e. ballads out of history or ballads which meet some contemporary definition?

If the former, and if you can admit to liking a bit of 'country' music once in a while (I love 'folk' music which has its origins in the British Isles) Eddy Arnold singing Barbara Allen and Wayfarin Stranger is a must hear. They came out in the 50's and I think they were remastered onto a CD 'Wanderin' a few years ago. Eddy Arnold was one of our great county singers and these ballads are IMHO representative of why. These are, I believe, 18th century songs.
Jax2, I love your ballad list, but don't think of them as "traditional". Maybe you're much younger than me, but I remember when they were new. (Richard Thomas and Leonard Kohn are contemporaries of mine).

My "traditional" favorites are:
Irish Tune from County Derry (Danny Boy)
Amazing Grace
I really like Tom Dooley, and it is technically a real ballad to boot.
Tom Dooley is a good one. Also "Long Black Veil" qualifies as a traditional ballad for sure. Joan Baez' recording from mid 60s used to make shivers go up and down my spine.

Marco- what I meant was that the total "performance" strikes an emotional chord w/in me. It can be the words, the melody, the playing, the singer's interpretation, or as in Jackson Browne's Before the Deluge, its all of the above, plus the ability of the lyric to evoke a period of my life that was transforming. Sure its not a traditional ballad, maybe more like an anthem of the times, but its one song that I cannot sing along w w/o getting very emotional.
Setting aside the argument of traditional vs modern, one of my favorites is:

Joni Mitchell "Urge for Going"

Tom Rush does an excellent cover of Urge for Going on the CD
No Regrets: The Very Best of Tom Rush

That CD also includes two other great "story songs"

"Joshua Gone Barbados"

"Galveston Flood"
It's not a good ballad unless someone gets killed, preferably by a jilted lover. Such as, Banks of the Ohio, Down in the Willow Garden, Rain and Snow, Knoxville Girl, Ballad of Omie Wise, etc.
Just a few more:

Waltzing's For Dreamers, From Galway to Graceland, and Walking on a Wire - AKA: The as yet un-nominated Richard Thompson trifecta
Hello, It's Me - Todd Rundgren
She Was The One - The dbs (Pete Holtzapple)
Suzanne - Leonard Cohen
Only Love Can Break Your Heart - Neil Yolung

I'll also second TVZ on Pancho & Lefty and add Sittin 'Round Waitin' to Die
Here's another good ballad
Ballad of easy rider
Holy thread resurrection, Mapman !!!!!