Storytelling in folk and country music

I was talking with a friend recently who was explaining his relatively newfoundland love for country music. Among his reasons were the songs simply tell stories. I think it's worth taking a look at the lyrics of country musicians in relation to a narrative; country songs, or songs whose lyrics are derivative of country and folk origin, transcend the format of prose or poetry while still giving us an account delivered with sentiment. 


The Carter Family is an incredibly decisive group in the establishment of modern standards of country music. While they stand as a huge influence to gosepl music, vocal layering and bluegrass, what I find most striking about their songs is their simplicity. The Carter Faimly experiments with several formats of storytelling, from listing off facts as in Single Girl, Married Girl to a more traditional verse by verse account as in I Never Will Marry

I'm not familiar with most of Jackson C. Frank's work, but I became immediately infatuated with his song Blues Run The Game after hearing it on the community radio station in my hometown one day. Again, the minimalism of the lyrics in this piece allow us to follow a vague and familiar story that still succeeds in feeling new and unique. I think I find his verses so compelling because his words are delivered with such a gentle tone; there is no urgency in following his story, but he offers it to us regardless. 

A more contemporary favorite is Lucinda Williams. I have a biased attachment to Something About What Happens When We Talk because my father plays a cover that is particularly dear to my heart, but after listening to the song many times the words alone grew on me too. The focal point of the song is one detail about Williams' relationship with the subject she's singing to, and from there she gives us more information until we understand that this is a song about heartbreak. 

I only recently discovered Elizabeth Cotten but already have a building affection for her music. While the guitar in her compositions involve quietly complex writing, her voice brings an earnest, almost child-like aspect to the verses. Yet the content of her lyrics often involve themes such as death, desperation and loss. Shake Sugaree is one instance of arguably grave content matter treated with an engaging frankness, a deceptively youthful voice and a subtly perfect amount of satire.