Outlaw Music

To return for a moment to the Kingston Trio, the one of their songs that always struck me strangely was their treatment of the traditional "Jesse James." They made a joke out of it. I assumed that it was just an attempt to remark that the James Gang wasn't really worthy of the veneration that American folklore had assigned them. But in the talk about 'moving left' as a result of exposure to folk music, I wonder if that was the whole agenda.

Here is a traditional version.

Here's the Kingston Trio's version:

It's a strange complaint to say that 'when his best friend died he was right there by her side/ and he lifted off her golden wedding ring.' The intent is to suggest theft, but to be by one's wife side at death is a sort of ideal seeing-through of the promise to be there 'till death do us part'; and saving the wedding ring to give to a daughter or grand-daughter or niece satisfies the 'something old' tradition as well. It's not a fair hit, even if it were true.

That's not to say that the James Gang aren't fairly criticized on certain points. Here's a piece that dings them fairly, I think. It's solid on the history.

And here's Johnny Cash doing an outlaw song that is fairly critical, also, of another American legendary, John Wesley Hardin.

And here's the Pogues doing the ballad because the Celtic take always has a home here.

If you still want more, Ry Cooder does a beautiful version with a long instrumental part.

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