Sunday song: Down from Dover
Image: 7 Arts Studio
Down From Dover - Jon Langford and Sally Timms
If you were to give birth to a stillborn baby, alone, having been abandoned by the child's father and shunned by your family, you might just have cause to scream and cry, to be frightened and sad and angry. But Sally Timms narrates the Dolly Parton original, "Down From Dover" somber and matter-of-fact, her voice dipping to a whisper and bristling shivery only toward the conclusion, as the wretchedness of the scene lays itself bare before her.
"Dover" is an economical story, lapping wave on narrative wave. And its monodirectional zeal, its clipped trot to an inevitable death, artificially ages it--lending it the patina of the older ballads when Dover could be a several-day distance and a girl might submit, numb, to the yoke of fate while still holding slippery hope that her man will arrive in time. So Timms' brown-paper plain reading of the song seems right, more than Parton's colorsaturated Little Sparrow version (the original 1970 recording is out of print, but is reportedly even more vivid).
Timms has actually recorded "Dover" several times over a span of 15 or so years--with and without an assist from Mekons comrade Jon Langford--making it her own along the way. Eric Weisbard has a very good piece on the song and the endlessly fascinating Miss Parton's career that appears here.
From Songs of False Hope and High Values (iTunes).