I've always loved the old ballad The House Carpenter, and have heard a number of innovative versions of it. I'm particularly enamored of the fierce Ex and Buffy Sainte-Marie versions featured here.
"The Daemon Lover", also known as "James Harris", "James Herries", or "The House Carpenter" (Roud 14, Child 243) is a popular ballad from Britain. It tells the story of a man (usually the Devil), who returns to a former lover after a very long absence, and finds her with a husband (usually a carpenter) and a baby. He entices her to leave both behind and come with him, luring her with many ships laden with treasure. Together they board one of his ships, (which in many versions she is surprised to find does not have a crew) and put to sea.
She soon begins to lament leaving behind her child, but is heartened by spying a bright hill in the distance. Her lover informs her that the hill is heaven, where they are not bound. Instead he indicates a much darker coast, which he tells her is hell, their destination. He then breaks the ship in half with his bare hands and feet, drowning them both. In other versions, the ship is wrecked by a storm at sea.
This ballad was one of 25 traditional works included in Ballads Weird and Wonderful (1912) and illustrated by Vernon Hill(pictured above). The New York Times review of Hill's illustrations accompanying this ballad was noted as a particular highlight of his illustrations thus:
... the design of Satan rushing down through the waves with the boat containing the faithless wife, is tremendous. Satan himself has one of the most graceful and beautiful human bodies over drawn; the rhythm of the whole is thrilling, and the conventionalized waves are splendid.
A popular American version is called "The House Carpenter".
1. Ewan MacColl- The Daemon Lover [#243 English)
2. Peggy Seeger- The House Carpenter [#243 American]
3. Clarence Ashley- The House Carpenter
4. Almeda Riddle- The House Carpenter
5. Bob Dylan- House Carpenter
6. Jean Ritchie- House Carpenter
7. Buffy Sainte-Marie- House Carpenter
8. Pentangle- House Carpenter
9. The Ex- House Carpenter
10. Faun Fables- House Carpenter
11. Oakley Hall- House Carpenter