If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Hangman” by The Flight (2013, from the Hangman EP).
The Flight is a recording project of the production duo of Joe Henson and Alexis Smith, who are from East London. In their day job of being music producers, they’ve worked with a long list of musicians including Lana Del Rey and Rufus Wainwright.
That’s the extent of what I know about them. I don’t even have a picture.
This arrived in the mail bag the other day, and I spent a long time trying to figure out how to write this. I still don’t know how, but I really wanted to share this song.
Hangman is the band’s first release, and it just came out last Monday. The EP is centered around the traditional folk song “Pretty Polly”, which is a song that I’m pretty familiar with. It has origins in the Appalachian Mountains of the southeastern United States. It also has origins in England and Scotland. It’s a murder ballad about a guy (who is sometimes called Willie) who kills a young girl who is presumably his fiancée and buries her in a shallow grave. There are many different versions of “Pretty Polly”. Some present the story from Polly’s perspective. Some present it from the killer’s perspective. Some from a third-party perspective. Some have a way of alternating perspective within the song. Some versions of the song give elaborate details about how the motive for the killing was that there was an unplanned pre-marital pregnancy. Some give elaborate details about how he killed her. Some give details about how the killer (who is a sailor) feels remorse and is haunted by her ghost for the rest of his days. Some give details about how he confessed to the killing. The point is that there are a lot of different ways to do that song, and no two ways are the same. Most of the time, it’s played on banjo or an acoustic guitar.
The version that I know is one that was done by Kristin Hersh on her Murder, Misery, And Then Goodnight album, which is a whole album of “traditional” murder ballads. Most of the songs on that album are native to the Appalachian mountains, but some have a provenance just like this one. Later on in this post, I’ll include the KH version of “Pretty Polly”.
Anyway, the song “Hangman” is a loose interpretation of the “Pretty Polly” song. The rest of the EP is from the perspective of Willie, from the first time he met her up to his execution. That’s what I’m told, anyway.
Here’s the song:
“Hangman” by The Flight
I really like that trip-hop-esque drum beat. It reminds me a lot of “Teardrop” by Massive Attack. I also like the vocals. Very silky smooth.
I wish that I had more to say about this, but I don’t.
While there are dozens of other versions by some giants of the bluegrass genre like Ralph Stanley, I can only offer the Kristin Hersh version, which is played on an acoustic guitar, and which leaves out most of the gory details:
“Pretty Polly” as interpreted by Kristin Hersh
You can buy a digital copy of Hangman from the amazon store here.
The Kristin Hersh album of murder ballads was one of those “limited release” albums that 4AD released. Only so many were produced, and they were only available in certain circumstances. No matter what it was, those 4AD “limited release” releases were hard to find. Of course Murder… is long out of print, but you can still get a digital copy here.