Thursday, March 3, 2011

Weeping Pilgrim / Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Weeping Pilgrim (from the album The House Carpenter's Daughter)

If you see them father
please tell them
I’m a poor mourning pilgrim
bound for Canaan land

Well I weep and I moan
and I move slowly on
I’m a poor mourning pilgrim
bound for Canaan land

If you see them sister
please tell them
I’m a poor mourning pilgrim
bound for Canaan land

Well I weep and I moan
and I move slowly on
I’m a poor mourning pilgrim
bound for Canaan land

If you see them brother
please tell them
I’m a poor mourning pilgrim
bound for Canaan land

Well I weep and I moan
and I move slowly on
I’m a poor mourning pilgrim
bound for Canaan land

If you see them mother
please tell them
I’m a poor mourning pilgrim
bound for Canaan land

Well I weep and I moan
and I move slowly on
I’m a poor mourning pilgrim
bound for Canaan land


_____________________________________________________

Poor Wayfaring Stranger (from the album The House Carpenter's Daughter)

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
traveling through this world of woe
but there’s no sickness, toil or danger
in that bright land to which I go

Well I’m going there
to meet my mother
said she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I know dark clouds
will gather ‘round me
I know my way
will be rough and steep
but beautiful fields lie just before me
where God’s redeemed
their vigils keep

Well I’m going there
to meet my loved ones
gone on before me, one by one
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I’ll soon be free of earthy trials
my body rest in the old church yard
I’ll drop this cross of self-denial
and I’ll go singing home to God

Well I’m going there
to meet my Savior
dwell with Him and never roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home



I'm not a very fashionable person. I've always lacked the innate ability to look at different items of clothing and know which items would look good together and which certainly would not. Even if I feel intuition leading me, I don't trust it. I like clothes, but I hate choosing them.

However, if you were to meet me, you would not find me unfashionable. On particularly good days, when I am out and about, I am sometimes stopped by strangers who compliment my attire and inquire as to where I purchased my shoes, or purse, or blah blah blah. What gives? Well, I'll tell you my secret: I have a fashion advisor.

Some time ago I decided I could no longer continue the futility of shopping on my own, so I recruited a fashion forward friend and asked her to help me. At first, our interactions were quite polite. I would pick up an item and say, "How about this?" and she would say, "Hmmm...maybe we should try that in a different color" or "That's nice, but this would be even better." I appreciated her gentle coaching.

Of course, as time wore on and these shopping trips became more common, her demeanor changed somewhat. Now when we are together, I will pick up an item and before I can say a word, she sees me from across the store and yells, "Put...that...DOWN!" Sometimes she just looks at me with disbelief and says, "Are you serious? You're not serious. Tell me you're not serious." And I say, "No, I was just kidding. I would never wear that! Oh, it's so...gross. Ha ha, just...joking." But we both know I am merely posing.

While I am still not even close to being an expert, my fashion advisor has done her best to help me help myself. Now if I am forced to purchase items on my own, I usually do much better than I did before. It turns out that all I really needed was a guide, someone who I could trust to lead me into uncharted territory and help me pass through safely.

When it was released in 2003, The House Carpenter's Daughter rocked my little world. I had eclectic taste in music ever since childhood, but folk music was never on my radar. I had no opinion of it because I simply had not had any honest experiences with it. I wouldn't have even known where to start in order to get acquainted with the genre. I needed someone to guide me. From my very first listen of The House Carpenter's Daughter, it was clear I had found a trusted teacher who would introduce me to this new musical horizon.

At the time I was a relatively new fan and it felt like Natalie was doing something entirely new even to her. Of course, in the years since, I've discovered all of the evidence that an album like The House Carpenter's Daughter was all but an inevitability for her. When I listen to old 10,000 Maniacs covers of Just As the Tide Was A-Flowing and Wildwood Flower, among others, it becomes apparent that Natalie had a taste for folk music from an early age. Part of what paved the way for The House Carpenter's Daughter was Natalie's efforts to deepen her own knowledge of folk music, including taking courses on its history. Every time I listen to the album, I feel like I am reaping the rewards of her earnest endeavor.

I find the two songs I've chosen to cover on this week's post to be similar in nature, both musically and lyrically. Here is a quote from Natalie that sheds light on why, of the many songs she must have studied about and learned to play, these two made the final cut:

"The thing I find so striking about traditional music is that it may be hundreds of years old, and yet I can connect to it as a modern person, because the things it addresses are eternal themes: loss of love, finding love, closeness of family, fear of damnation, curiosity about the life after, oppression. That's what I look for in contemporary material too, though, authentic emotional content."*

Apparently, Weeping Pilgrim was an all but forgotten song and Natalie's version is one of very few recordings of this song that is available. Undeniably, both of these songs are sorrowful, but its Poor Wayfaring Stranger that I find the most heartbreaking. I suppose if the music were different, more uptempo and rollicking like Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow, it might make the words of the wayfaring stranger sound more hopeful and contented. But the somberness of the music always makes me imagine the protagonist of this song as a person so trodden down by woe that they feel their only escape is death.

I know that not all of Natalie's fans fully embraced The House Carpenter's Daughter when it came out. Maybe they didn't care for folk music, or maybe they just wanted Natalie to stick with the style of music they were used to hearing her perform. I think the people that felt that way were in the minority, though, and I'd like to think that with time they grew to appreciate the album as the gem that many have found it to be.

Had The House Carpenter's Daughter been the only album of traditional folk music I ever purchased, I don't think I could have done better. But the reality is, the album widened the scope of my musical tastes and has led me to discover other folk music (a term the broadness of which we shall discuss another day) that I don't think I ever would have discovered otherwise. I'm grateful that I had a trusted guide to lead me into that uncharted territory. Now if only I could recruit Natalie Merchant as my personal music-shopping advisor. I can hear it now...

"Put...that...DOWN!"

Download Weeping Pilgrim at Itunes - Weeping Pilgrim - The House Carpenter's Daughter

Download Poor Wayfaring Stranger at Itunes - Poor Wayfaring Stranger - The House Carpenter's Daughter

*Sing Out, Nov 2003

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