Other people’s songs: Hard Times Come Again No More

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: “Hard Times Come Again No More” is an American parlor song written by Stephen Foster in 1854.

It was first recorded in 1905 by the Edison Quartet on wax cylinder.

Tony:  This is a song in the tradition of the poor asking for support from the rich during times of famine and unemployment.  As such when a performer sang it to the local population it always resonated.   Wiki tells us that the image of the pale drooping maiden is a hallmark of Foster’s writing.

Aaron: Bob’s version is another track from the Good As I Been To You album


Tony: Bob certainly manages to make it sound desperately mournful, and, well, desperate.   I’m not at all sure I would want to play this twice.

It is actually much harder to perform than one might imagine, for there is a need to keep all the desperation in the performance without sounding mawkish.

Aaron: Several of my favorite artists have covered the song including Bruce Springsteen, Arlo Guthrie, Jay Farrar, Johnny Cash etc so I will include one from a recognized artist and one that perhaps will be new to you.

Yo-Yo Ma with James Taylor from 2000.

Tony: Another of those pesky videos which Aaron in the US has selected but which won’t play in rural England.  So two sources are included

Tony: I find this much more approachable than Bob’s version, perhaps because the string trio is so eloquent; three cheers for the arranger.  It would be so easy to kept the accompaniment in the background all the way through, but the instrument break is not just completely unexpected, but totally delightful.

Now suddenly I do want to play this song again, although I must admit I am focussed on the wonderful accompaniment.

Aaron: The Swingles from 2018

Tony: It is a piece that cries out for a set of exquisite harmonies and the Swingles will always deliver that.  I defy anyone listening without distraction not to be emotionally moved by this performance.

Just how many unexpected harmonies can one get out of such a simple song?

With such a performance all I can think is, “What a beautiful way to end an article!”

Previously in this series…

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