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«Riddles Wisely Expounded: English and Scottish Popular Ballads»

The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, commonly known as the Child Ballads (named after Francis Child, the Harvard researcher who collected them in the 1800s), are as old as 500 years old but are still popular, considered classic folk songs and sung by singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan.

American-Norwegian, Nashville-based singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer Ed Pettersen thought that these mysterious and funny ballads (that take jabs surreptitiously at the Crown in some cases), passed down for generations, will enjoy new and fresh musical dresses, and may attract new as well as old folks. Pettersen collected 12 songs for this project and enlisted his long-time collaborator, avant-guitarist Henry Kaiser.

Pettersen and Kaiser took great pains to delve as deep into the history and mythology of the 12 songs chosen here for their Riddles Wisely Expounded: English and Scottish Popular Ballads. They were influenced by Gregory Frost’s book Rhymer (Baen books, 2023) about Thomas the Rhymer, the legendary twelfth-century figure of traditional Scottish balladry, known by many names over time—Tam Lin, Robin Hood, and numerous other incarnations (and they perform the song «Thomas Rhymer». The texts were translated as closely as humanly possible for modern English from North America.

Pettersen sang the songs a-capella with great focus on their dramatic, ceremonial rhythm, and later on he and Kaiser improvised on these ancient songs, with many guitars and effects. It took them four years to complete this project. The improvised music has more roots in British prog-rock, psychedelic rock and free improvised music, far from the purist folk legacy of Steeleye Span or The Albion Band, but in its special way, the music owes much to the original spirit and supernatural wonder with which they were intended. One of the songs, «Sweet William (The Famous Flower of Serving Men)» may be the first ever song about a transgender. This bold and inspiring approach is faithful to the true magic of these songs and proves that these songs never grow old.

Eyal Hareuveni 

Ed Pettersen (vocals, guitars, percussion), Henry Kaiser (guitars)