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Cruel Was My Father

from Fond Desire Farewell by Debra Cowan

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I had learned a version of this called “In the Month of January” that was collected by Peter Kennedy from Sarah Makem. To me, Makem's tune was always hauntingly beautiful, but the story never quite made sense. Many years later I found another version of the song in the Helen Hartness Flanders Collection, sung by Mrs. Christine Henry of Providence, RI. We decided to put Mrs. Henry's lyrics to Mrs. Makem's tune to give this sad tale a setting that befits it.


‘Twas on a frosty morning the snow lay on the ground
A fair maid was walking a few miles out of town
A few miles out of town against the winter's frost and snow
She had a baby in her arms she had nowhere to go

O cruel was my mother she barred the door to me
And cruel was my father for I know he kept the key
Cruel was that winter's night that pierced my heart with cold
But crueler was the false young man who sold his love for gold

She came unto to a lonely grove and there she did kneel down
She prayed unto her Saviour dear for mercy on her soul
She kissed her little baby’s lips and laid it by her side
She raised her eyes to heaven above
And then laid down and died

Early the next morning this fair maid was found
Her little baby’s fingers were frozen to the ground
When her mother heard of this, she wrung her hands and she cried
It was for her father’s cruelty that caused them both to die

So come all ye pretty fair maids a warning take by me
Never try to build your nest at the top of any tree
For the leaves they will wither and the roots they will decay
And the beauty of a fair young maid it soon will fade away


from Fond Desire Farewell, released April 28, 2009
Arranged and Produced by Dave Mattacks

Debra Cowan: Vocals, Acoustic guitar on “Wall...” “Night Owl...” “Salisbury...”, English Concertina on “Rainbow”, “Night Owl”
Dave Mattacks: Drums, Cymbals, Percussion, Piano, Pump Organ, Hammered Dulcimer, Wurlitzer Piano, Toy Piano
Duke Levine: Acoustic Guitar, Mandola, National Guitar, Octave Mandolin Marty Ballou: Upright Bass Joyce Andersen: Fiddle

With: Billy Novick: Clarinet and Wolf Ginandes:Tuba on “Alcohol”
Additional Vocals: Mike Barry on “Rainbow”, “Lili...” and “Yon Green Valley”
Ruth Peterson, Mike and Julie Barry on “Darkest Hour...” Mike, Julie and Liam Barry on “Lili...”


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Debra Cowan Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

Singer Debra Cowan performs a cappella and with guitar, interpreting a wide range of folk songs. Debra has two acclaimed solo recordings to her credit, and her third, “Fond Desire Farewell” was produced by former Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks. A former California resident, she now resides in Massachusetts and tours all over North America and the United Kingdom. ... more

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