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Pretty Saro

[ Roud 417 ; Ballad Index R744 ; trad.]

Susan Reid sang At the Foot of Yonders Mountain in 1954 on her Electra album Susan Reid Sings Old Airs.

Shirley Collins sang Pretty Saro unaccompanied in 1959 on her first LP, Sweet England. The album's notes comment:

One of the finest American mountain lyric songs of the type derived from English folk song roots. The version is from Sharp's English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians published by Oxford University Press.

She recorded it again together with Davy Graham in 1964 for their LP Folk Roots, New Routes. This recording was included in many anthologies, e.g. Shirley Collins' own Within Sound, and on the anthologies Electric Muse and Folk Now.

Hedy West sang Pretty Saro as the title track of her 1966 Topic album of Appalachian Ballads, Pretty Saro. She commented in the sleeve notes:

Pretty Saro is apparently a native lyrical piece from the 19th century. Grandma and Daddy always sing it in this slow free style and with this ornamentation. This long phrasing gives singers a chance to use the keen, long carrying tone quality that was considered excellent.

Gaither Carlton sang Pretty Saro in a recording of the Watson Family made by Ralph Rinzler and Daniel Seeger in May 1965. In was released in 1977 on the Rounder and Topic album The Watson Family Tradition.

Finbar and Eddie Fury sang Pretty Saro in 1968 on Paddie Bell's album with them, I Know Where I'm Going.

Jez Lowe sang Pretty Saro on his eponymous 1980 Fellside album Jez Lowe.

Patti Reid sang Pretty Saro on her eponymous 1987 Fellside album Patti Reid.

Andy Turner sang Pretty Saro on his 1990 cassette Love, Death and the Cossack.

Martin Simpson played Pretty Saro on his 1991 Shanachie album When I Was on Horseback. A 1994 live recording from the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, was released in 1996 on his album Live.

Dave Burland “first heard [Pretty Saro] from Hedy West, a wonderful singer and banjo player from America.” He sang it on his 1996 album Benchmark.

Elizabeth LaPrelle sang Pretty Saro in 2004 on her CD Rain and Snow. She noted:

This is the Jean Ritchie version. I love the fiddle drone on this; parts of it are like Jean Ritchie's dulcimer on her recording of Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City.

She recorded it in 2007 for her CD Lizard in the Spring where she noted:

I learned this old favourite in a ballad workshop led by Sheila Kay Adams, who heard it from her neighbors in Madison County, North Carolina. I sang a Kentucky version on my previous CD.

Sara Grey sang Pretty Saro in 2005 on her Fellside album A Long Way from Home. She also sang it live at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2008, which was included in the following year on the festival anthology Grand to Be a Working Man (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 5). She commented in her album's liner notes:

his was sung by Cads Wallin, Madison County, North Carolina. It has been collected in Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, the Ozarks, Indiana, and Iowa amongst other states.

The Frank C Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore suggests that that the odd line “banks of said brow” might be a corruption of the line of the another version which has “the mountain's sad brow”

The use of the word “freeholder” places the song’s origin in England as the term is not used in the United States.

It appears that Pretty Saro and its doppelgaenger At the Foot of Yonder Mountain are mostly derived from The Streams of Bunclody. The 1749 date looks good too. There is a local tradition that The Streams of Bunclody was written from America by an immigrant from County Wicklow and sent back to Ireland. If this immigrant or a son or daughter or someone who had the song from him was among the early European settlers of the Appalachians, the American versions could easily have been adapted from the immigrant's song. 1749 could be the date of the immigrant's arrival in America, although the stanza with the date did not go back to Ireland or was dropped there. Of course, there are a lot of floating lyrics here, and John Moulden points out the dangers of taking such material as a basis for identifying oral texts as versions of the same song. What one must look for is distinctive stanzas; otherwise there would be just one song of which Pretty Saro, On Top of Old Smokey, It Was in the Month of January, The Wagoner's Lad, and countless others would be examples. But these do have distinctive content and it seems that Streams of Bunclody begat Pretty Saro.

Mark T sang Pretty Saro on his 2011 CD Folk Songs & Ballads.

Rob Harbron sang Pretty Saro in 2015 on his and Emma Reid's album Flock & Fly.

Lyrics

Shirley Collins sings Pretty Saro

I came to this country in eighteen-forty-nine,
I saw many true loves but never saw mine.
I viewed all around me and I am alone,
And me a poor soldier and far from my home.

It's not the long journey I'm dreading to go,
Nor leaving the country for the deads that I owe.
There is nothing that grieves me nor troubles my mind
Like leaving pretty Saro my darling behind.

I wish I was a poet and could write a fine hand,
I'd write my love a letter that she might understand.
I'd send it by the island where them waters overflow
I'd think on pretty Saro wherever I go.

Farewell, my dear father, likewise mother too,
I'm going for to ramble this country all through.
And when I get tired I'll sit down and cry
And think on Pretty Saro with tears in my eye.

Sara Grey sings Pretty Saro

Well I first came to this country in eighteen and forty nine,
I saw many fine lovers but I never saw mine;
I viewed them all around me, I found I was quite alone,
And me a poor stranger and a long way from home.

Well my true love she won't have me so I understand,
She wants a freeholder but I have no land.
I cannot maintain her with silver and gold,
Nor buy her all the fine things that a big house can hold.

Well, if I were a poet and could write a fine hand
I would write my love a letter that she'd understand.
I'd send it by the waters where the islands overflow,
And I'd think of my darling wherever I go.

Well, if I were a turtle dove, had wings and could fly,
I would fly to my love's lodging and there I'd draw nigh.
And in her lily white arms all night I would lay
And watch those little winders till the dawning of day.

Way down in some lonesome valley, way down in some lonesome place,
Where those wild birds they do warble and their notes do increase,
My love she is handsome, she's slender and neat,
And I wouldn't find no better pastime than to be with my sweet.

Well I strolled through the mountains, I strolled through the plains,
I strolled to forget her but it was all in vain.
On the banks of old Cowley, on the mount of said brow,
Well I once loved her dearly and I don't hate her now.