Standout Track: No. 2, “Pretty Polly,” an England-by-way-of-Appalachia folk song about a murderous young man who kills his fiancée. The combination of clawhammer banjo and cello, along with the haunting vocals of Vandaveer members Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin, lends a macabre twang that distinguishes the song from previously recorded versions by The Byrds and Chicago bluesman Otis Taylor.
Musical Motivation: Heidinger considered covering “Pretty Polly” for the 78 Project, a Web series that challenges contemporary artists to select a song from the public domain and record it live using a 1930s PRESTO direct-to-disc recorder. Heidinger found it hard to narrow down his choices to just one, and the band wound up covering another tune for the project. But for Vandaveer’s new album, Oh, Willie, Please, Heidinger decided to record 11 other traditional murder ballads, finding himself strangely drawn to the “darker side of the human condition.”
Clap Your Hands Say Yikes: Listen to the lyrics and you’ll realize how dark “Pretty Polly”is. “He stabbed her in her heart and her heart’s blood did flow,” Heidinger sings.“And into the grave, pretty Polly did go.” It’s also one of the most percussive songs on the album, punctuated by hand claps and foot stomps. Heidinger, a self-described “habitual stomper,” says that the rhythm sharpened the song’s teeth. (Or perhaps its blade.) “It provided that urgency,” he says.
Watch the music video for “Pretty Polly” after the jump.
Vandaveer plays IOTA on June 22 and the Smithsonian American Art Museum on June 23.