Monday, 13 February 2017

Murder Ballad Monday--Two Sisters

Hello and welcome to part twelve of Murder Ballad Monday.

Last week, we started to look at versions where the supernatural element was removed in favour of one sister pushing the other in, the drowning sister being rescued by the miller and then thrown back in again to drown.
 Image result for tom waits

This week our version of Child Ballad 10 is sung by Tom Waits and it comes from the Bastards section of his Orphans, Brawlers, and Bastards CD trilogy. Interestingly, he calls his version Two Sisters, but his lyrics mention “daughters one, two, three, four.” Like the Paul Clayton and Loreena McKennitt versions, extra sisters mentioned at the beginning of the song are never heard from again.

This version is related to last week’s version and next week’s version through similarities in the refrain. Tom Waits’ refrain says:
Bow and balance me
And I'll be true to my love
if my love will be true to me

I established last week that the last line about being true to my love is related to Child ballad 10 R, 10 S, and 10 U.

I found the actual refrain Tom Waits uses in The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads
By Bertrand Harris Bronson. It appears as number 51. It was collected from Mrs May Kennedy McCord from  Springfield, Mo. on November 12th, 1941. She learned it from her mother in Galena, Mo. Circa 1890.

What also sets this one apart from other versions where the miller pushes the girl back in to drown, is the reason for his doing so. Variation one:  He fishes the drowning woman out of the river, and she offers him her gold rings to take her back to her father. He steals the rings and pushes her back in or Variation two: He fishes the drowning woman out of the river and he steals the rings and pushes her back in. Tom Wait’s version offers us Variation three: He fishes the drowning woman out of the river and the sister who pushed her in offers him five gold rings to push her back in again!

Here is Tom Waits’ version of this ballad. He really adds his own distinctive, gravelly-voiced flare to it. I have included the lyrics below if you’d like to follow along. Listen to it here:


Here’s how it breaks down compared to other versions:

Name of ballad: Two Sisters
Performed by: Tom Waits
Refrain:
Bow and balance me
And I'll be true to my love
if my love will be true to me
Number of sisters: four
Where did they live: by the seashore
Appearance described as: n/a
Sweetheart:  Willy
Excuse to go to the water:  to “see the ships as they're sailing on”
Body of water: the shore
Does it contain the line “Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam”:  yes
Miller and child: just the miller
Mistaken for: n/a
Described in death: n/a
Who finds her on the bank: n/a
Instrument she becomes: n/a
Body parts used: n/a
Would her song “melt a heart of stone”: n/a
Do the strings sing individually: n/a
What does the instrument sing: n/a
Is the sister punished: no, the miller was hung in the old mill gate for drowning little sister Kate, but the sister escapes punishment.

 Here are the lyrics if you would like to follow along. I have eliminated the refrain so that it won’t be so long.

There was an old woman, lived by the seashore
Bow and balance me
There was an old woman, lived by the seashore
A number of daughters: one, two, three, four
And I'll be true to my love
if my love will be true to me
There was a young man come there to see them
There was a young man come there to see them
and the oldest one got stuck on him

He bought the youngest a beaver hat
He bought the youngest a beaver hat
and the oldest one got mad at that

Oh, sister oh, sister let's walk the seashore
Oh, sister oh, sister let's walk the seashore
and see the ships as they're sailing on

While these two sisters were walking the shore
While these two sisters were walking the shore
the oldest pushed the youngest o'er

Oh, sister oh, sister please lend me your hand
Oh, sister oh, sister please lend me your hand
and you will have Willy and all of his land

I'll never, I'll never will lend you my hand
I'll never, I'll never will lend you my hand
but I'll have Willy and all of his land

Some time she swam and some time she swam
Some time she sank and some time she swam
until she came to the old mill dam

The miller, he got his fishing hook
The miller, he got his fishing hook
and fished that maiden out of the brook

Oh, miller oh, miller here's five gold rings
Oh, miller oh, miller here's five gold rings
to push the maiden in again

The miller received those five gold rings
The miller received those five gold rings
and pushed that maiden in again

The miller was hung in the old mill gate
Bow and balance me
The miller was hung in the old mill gate
for drowning little sister Kate
And I'll be true to my love
if my love will be true to me


So, that’s it for version twelve of The Twa Sisters. Stay tuned next Monday for version thirteen.

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