VARIOUS > People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1938

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

If you, like me, think songs of death and destruction should be cloaked in minor chords and sandwiched between melancholy refrains, People Take Warning! will have you singing a different tune. This beautiful three-CD collection (with a foreword by Tom Waits) features 70 ditties about calamities from plane crashes, train wrecks and the Titanic, to murders, rapes and natural disasters-pretty much all in major chords.Label: Tompkins Square
[Rating: 4 stars]

If you, like me, think songs of death and destruction should be cloaked in minor chords and sandwiched between melancholy refrains, People Take Warning! will have you singing a different tune. This beautiful three-CD collection (with a foreword by Tom Waits) features 70 ditties about calamities from plane crashes, train wrecks and the Titanic, to murders, rapes and natural disasters-pretty much all in major chords. Fret not, the songs exude melodrama, like the sappy “Ohio Prison Fire,” with its theatrical dialogue between the narrator, the fire inspector and an “old lady”: “Is this your son’s body, lady” “Oh, Jimmy! Jimmy … oh, bodies! Bodies! Bodies!” The hillbilly greats are all here, like Uncle Dave Macon, Charlie Patton and Son House, as are less-widely known crooners. Some of the melodies almost border on jovial, like the gospel-ish “Memphis Flu,” giving this collection a sort of tongue-in-cheek perspective on tragedy that only time and distance could allow (it’s hard to imagine songwriters of today getting away with a less-than-grave ode to, say, 9/11). Fortunately, despite the digital format, the songs retain their original scratchy-vinyl nuance, an apt setting for the tales they tell.

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