Love Was The Cause Of My Sorrow: Traditional Folk Songs From The American River Valleys


The rivers were the lifelines of the early part of the nineteenth century. Explorers followed them into new regions, towns sprung up, life sprung up. Where you have people you have music.

People sang the songs they brought with them. Quite often those songs were learned across the ocean. Even if you learned over here, you might have still learned it from your grandma.

The rivers brought new songs to the towns that sprung up along its banks. It didn’t take long for the popular songs of the day to make their way to the people. You could buy the latest broadsheets in a small town along the banks of the Little Wabash River in southern Illinois before mid-century.

A lot of these songs are tragic, involving heartache and woe - two popular subject then as now. Perhaps the difference between then and now is fewer people die in the course of song today.

It has been said by some this isn’t folk music, but that’s poppycock. There are countless folk singers and folk bands out there whose only connection to the folk tradition is that it’s played partly on acoustic instruments. That’s not folk. Folk music is music of the people, people making music for each other. On whatever instruments are popular in the day.

Is an Irish traditional tune any less traditional for being played on a fiddle, a more modern instrument than the harp it was originally written for? Why would a Stratocaster in the 21st century be any different then? After all, it’s been over fifty years since Fairport Convention played their first gig.

Folk traditions grow over time. To wish music stood still in a specific period is to wish for a golden age, and those exist in hindsight. Except for those who live it.

Folk music is music of amateurs, albeit at times, highly talented ones. They played for each other when music and songs was something you did, not just consumed.

The vocals could be a bit more ragged than more proper music. After all, a fellow in his cups is more inclined to sing, and sing loudly.

That’s the spirit behind this. These songs were being sung in American’s river valleys around the middle of the nineteenth century, in a variety of styles. We’ve added a few more and put them out there to see if they still echo here.