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Jean Ritchie: Ballads from Her Appalachian Family Tradition

Jean Ritchie

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Album Review

A crystalline-clear voice and a tireless preservation of traditional music are two of the contibutions to folk music that Jean Ritchie is most respected for, and both shine on the Smithsonian/Folkways release Ballads from Her Appalachian Family Tradition. Mostly a cappella, with a few songs accompanied by dulcimer, these children's ballads are alternately warm and chilling, achingly beautiful and as stark as the bones of the balladeers who wrote the songs hundreds of years ago. The bright melody of "Barbary Allen" could be chanted as a playground rhyme or sung as a funeral hymn, and the brutal love triangle in "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender" resolves with a higher body count than a Sam Peckinpah film, but with the heartbreaking romance of a Merchant Ivory production. The extensive liner notes stray toward the academic, but certainly drive home the point that these songs are older than the original 1961 release date, older than recorded music, and the sentiments found in all of the songs date back to the dawn of language and beyond. Despite all of the long-carved gravestones and lovelorn bloodshed, these recordings still manage to sound warm and familiar as a mother's lullaby, and pull off the remarkable feat of being a historically important document and wonderful to listen to.

Customer Reviews

Important, Beautiful Music

I feel a bit sad to be the first person to write a review of this album - it signifies that Jean Ritchie and her work and music are somehow under the radar. While the Smithsonian Folkways field recordings of American folk songs (by Lomax and others) are important and wonderful, Jean Ritchie makes the songs much more accessible. They are well recorded, her voice is both beautiful and authentic, and the dulcimer, when employed, provides a wonderful accompaniment. While it's disappointing that iTunes doesn't have "Mountain Hearth and Home", which is an eclectic album (and my personal favorite), "Ballads" is a essential album and well represents Jean Ritchie at her best. Jean Ritchie is not just for avid folk music fans either. Anyone who I have ever introduced to her music has quickly become a fan. I've had more people ask me "Who is this?" while listening to Jean Ritchie than any other music I own. Buy this album!


I love her voice! I can't describe the emotions they give me. Soul stirring.


Jean Ritchie is one of the best singers of traditional music that I have encountered. Her dulcimer playing is wonderful also. If you play the dulcimer, love traditional tunes and like to hear a beautiful voice sing, you should purchase this album!


Born: December 8, 1922 in Viper, KY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s

Jean Ritchie was born into a large and musical family in Viper, Kentucky in 1922. The Ritchie family was very much a part of the Appalachian folk tradition, and had committed over 300 songs (including hymns, traditional love songs, ballads, children's game songs, etc.) to its collective memory, a tradition that Ritchie has drawn on (as well as preserved and maintained) for the entire length of her performing career. She grew up in a home where singing was intertwined with nearly every task, and the...
Full Bio

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