Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pretty Saro Made Memorable By Dylan's Tender and Delicate Delivery

As has been noted before, it's not just what he sings but how he sings it that makes a Dylan song so memorable. The English folk ballad Pretty Saro is no exception. Pretty Saro is pure sweetness.

Wikipedia pegs the song as originating in England in the early 1700s. Like many  traditional ballads origins are a guess at best. What we do know is that it made its way into the Appalachian folk music bill of fare where it has been preserved as a choice morsel on that extensive menu of delights.

Any number of preservationists have been credited with keeping songs like Pretty Saro from disappearing into the history vault. Among these was a British folk music historian Cecil Sharp. Dylan is one of several well-known musicians who has performed the song, including Judy Collins, Pete Seeger and Doc Watson. Dylan's recording in March 1970 never made the cut for that year's Self Portrait but had been preserved and is now shared on Another Self portrait.

Pretty Saro is a simple story and a common lament in folk ballads. The song writer loves someone he can never have.

The first stanza of the song describes the hills where he lives as sad and lonesome. This is a contrast from the inspiration many people have derived from hills. In stanza two the singer says goodbye to pretty Saro, but that she will be with him in his dreams wherever he goes. The reason for this separation is stated in the third stanza. He's poor and she wants a landowner who has the wherewithal to give her a house and home. Essentially, as elaborated on in the following verse, she likes the finer things that only money can buy.

The story stands in contrast to many other songs of our generation about love being more important than things. "They say our love won't pay the rent," sang Sonny and Cher in "I Got You Babe."

As I listen to Pretty Saro, I am reminded of Dylan's manner of delivery in portions of the Witmark Demos, Bootleg Series Volume 9. The tender way he sings renders it Pretty Sorrow. If you haven't acquired the set, here's one more reason to ask for it on your next birthday.


Down in some lone valley
In a sad lonesome place
Where the wild birds do all
Their notes to increase

Farewell pretty Saro
I bid you Adieu
But I dream of pretty Saro
Wherever I go

Well my love she won't have me
So I understand
She wants a freeholder
Who owns a house and land

I cannot maintain her
With silver and gold
And all of the fine things
That a big house can hold

If I was a poet
And could write a fine hand
I'd write my love a letter
That she'd understand

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