Other people’s songs: Lily of the West


by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: This is a traditional Irish folk song, best known today as an American folk song.  It’s alternative title: “Flora, the Lily of the West”.   The lyrics to the American version were first published in 1861.

Joan Baez recorded the song in 1961, including it on her second album; her live concerts have frequently included performances of the song well into the 2010s.

Tony: It’s one of those pieces of music which really allows a singer such as Joan Baez, who has a terrific range in her singing voice, to show off that range, as well as giving the opportunity for an active, enjoyable guitar accompaniment – exactly as we hear on this recording (although just wait until you hear some of the other guitar and banjo work that appears in the recordings below!)

And believe me, singing the piece while playing this accompaniment is no easy achievement.   Which is why most people who attempt the song in live performances return to playing chords.

Aaron: Peter, Paul and Mary recorded it as Flora for their 1963 album “Moving”.

Tony: And unbelievably they took it even faster – and of course the speed does convey the extreme turn of events the song portrays.    In this way we can get through the whole story from

When first I came to LouisvilleSome pleasure there to findA damsel there from LexingtonWas pleasing to my mind

through to

Although she swore my life away
Deprived me of my rest
Still I love my faithless Flora
The Lily of the West

… in just three minutes.   It is a breathless performance, and then some.

Aaron: Bob’s version appeared on his 1973 studio album, Dylan. Just listen to the harpsichord. I think the player is being paid by the note!

Tony: If I didn’t know better, I’d say that wasn’t Bob singing, although of course once one knows, then yes it is Bob, and a reminder of how his voice used to be.   What I like far less is the very obvious bass part.  Surely that wonderful performance by Bob and the ladies deserves better than that plod plod.

Aaron: Subsequent versions include:

The Chieftains with Mark Knopfler on lead vocals

Tony: Ah the traditional Irish feel.  And indeed you can’t get more authentic in terms of recreations than the Chieftans.  Goodness, how many awards the guys have picked up!  And their interpretation is undoubtedly as authentic as it comes in terms of the melody and lyrics.

No one knows who wrote this, but it appeared in 1839 for the first time.  What it must be like to have a time machine and travel back to then, find the person who created the song, and tell that person that we are still listening to it in the 21st century, and still appreciating all the emotions within.

Aaron: Crooked Still included it on their 2004 album Hop High, as Flora

Tony: These guys are always utterly amazing in terms both of their technical skill and the arrangements they come up.   Really all I can say is play this and just listen.  And then play it again.   And then go and find some other recordings by the band.

And isn’t their ending just a perfect way to conclude my ramblings?

Well, to answer my question, yes, but I can’t resist adding one more by this band.  In case you are still reading, and want some more music.  If yes, try this…

Previously in this series…

  1. Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
  2. Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
  3. Other people’s songs: They killed him
  4. Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
  5. Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
  6. Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
  7. Other people’s songs: Love Henry
  8. Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
  9. Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
  10. Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
  11. Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
  12. Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
  13. Other people’s songs: You go to my head
  14. Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
  15. Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
  16. Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
  17. Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
  18. Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
  19. Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
  20. Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
  21. Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
  22. Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
  23. Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
  24. Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
  25. Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
  26. Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
  27. Other people’s songs: You’re no good
  28. Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)
  29. Other people’s songs: Blood in my eyes
  30. Other people’s songs: I forgot more than you’ll ever know
  31.  Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  32. Other people’s songs: Highway 51
  33. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  34. Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  35. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  36. Other people’s songs: Highway 51 Blues
  37. Other people’s songs: Freight Train Blues
  38. Other People’s Songs: The Little Drummer Boy
  39. Other People’s Songs: Must be Santa
  40. Other People’s songs: The Christmas Song
  41. Other People’s songs: Corina Corina
  42. Other People’s Songs: Mr Bojangles
  43. Other People’s Songs: It hurts me too
  44. Other people’s songs: Take a message to Mary
  45. Other people’s songs: House of the Rising Sun
  46. Other people’s songs: “Days of 49”
  47. Other people’s songs: In my time of dying
  48. Other people’s songs: Pretty Peggy O
  49. Other people’s songs: Baby Let me Follow You Down
  50. Other people’s songs: Gospel Plow
  51. Other People’s Songs: Melancholy Mood
  52. Other people’s songs: The Boxer and Big Yellow Taxi
  53. Other people’s songs: Early morning rain
  54. Other people’s Songs: Gotta Travel On
  55. Other people’s songs: “Can’t help falling in love”



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