Wayfaring Strangers: Spotify Playlist

Celebrating the second edition of Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia, our Spotify playlist offers a soundtrack for the migration saga chronicled in the book. Some of the artists included here are mentioned or quoted within the pages, and they combine to create an accompaniment well worthy of the epic story.  The running order follows themes as they unfold in Wayfaring Strangers, and Spotify shuffle offers an intriguing sonic setting for anyone just dipping into the book.

“Barbara Allen”

 by Dolly Parton with Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Altan

(Traditional arranged by Dolly Parton)

from Heartsongs: Live from Home (Columbia/Sony Music)

In his famous seventeenth century diary, Samuel Pepys speaks of hearing the actress Elizabeth Knepp singing the “little Scotch song of Barbary Allen.” This is the earliest existing reference to the song, well loved on both sides of the Atlantic. After crossing the ocean, “Barbara Allen” appeared on American broadsides and in songbooks such as the Forget Me Not Songster (along with “The Farmer’s Curst Wife,” track 12). American music icon Dolly Parton acknowledged the ballad’s transatlantic journey and timeless appeal in this live recording. Trading verses in English matched to Irish ones sung by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Parton creates a magical pairing that encapsulates the Wayfaring Strangers music migration.

“It Was a’ For Our Rightfu’ King”

by Dougie MacLean

(Traditional arranged by Dougie MacLean)

from Craigie Dhu (Dunkeld Records)

Beginning in 1610, King James VI (Scotland) and I (England, Wales and Ireland) decided to pacify his Irish kingdom by “planting” English-speaking Presbyterians there. Border Scots and northern English, scraping a living from depleted lands, were offered arable farmland. People had been navigating back and forth between Scotland and Ireland for thousands of years, but the Plantation policy created a substantial Scottish presence in Ulster and set off waves of migration. When his son James II was deposed, Jacobite Scots rallied in Scotland and Ulster to support his cause. Contemporary Scots songwriter Dougie MacLean sings these verses, set by Robert Burns to a traditional tune he had collected.

“Bidh Clann Ulaidh” (The Clans of Ulster)  

by Catherine-Ann MacPhee

(Traditional arranged by Catherine-Ann MacPhee)

from Chi Mi’n Geamhradh (Greentrax Recordings)

“The Clans of Ulster will be at your wedding” promises the singer of this traditional Scots Gaelic lullaby, as she blesses her child’s imagined marriage.  The families she names attest to the ancient links between the west of Scotland and Ireland, and the blood ties between some Ulster and Scottish clans, including Clan Donald.  From Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Catherine-Ann MacPhee began her singing career at candle-lit ceilidhs in her native village and now resides in Nova Scotia, another location with historic links to Scotland through migration.

“Benton’s Jig/Benton’s Dream”

by Patrick Street

(Jacky Daly/Benton Flippen)

from No. 2 Patrick Street (Green Linnet Records)

There had been a modest flow of emigration from Ulster to America before 1718; in that year, it began in earnest.  An estimated 250,000 people departed Ulster for America between 1718 and 1800, and 85 percent were Ulster Scots emigrating into Philadelphia and the Delaware valley ports. Onboard the emigrant vessels, music and dance became a mainstay of passengers’ lives at sea, and the fiddle accompanied many an Atlantic crossing.  Irish band Patrick Street, with fiddler Kevin Burke and Jacky Daly on accordion, capture the spirit of the voyage. The music shifts from Irish-jig time to Appalachian old-time as Daly’s “Benton’s Jig” blends with North Carolina fiddler Benton Flippen’s composition “Benton’s Dream”.  In this way, the tune crosses into the more-syncopated and rhythmic Appalachian style, which evolved from New World banjo-fiddle pairings.

“The Rambling Irishman”

by Arcady


from Many Happy Returns (Shanachie Records)

A variety of threads and textures colored the musical fabric of Ulster as smaller ethnic groups were attracted there by the linen industry—Welsh, French Huguenots, and English Plantation settlers among them. So over time, people embraced other forms of singing, including two or more a capella singers joining in unison. This became a hallmark of the Ulster singing style that the Scots-Irish carried to the New World.  Although homesickness was often the theme in emigration songs, other verses give the impression of maintaining a brave face as thoughts turned to anticipating the life that lay ahead.  Here the song is sung by Niamh Parsons (with Arcady) as she is joined by The Voice Squad who do add harmonies in this recorded version. 

“The Winding River Roe”

by Cara Dillon

(Traditional arranged by Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman)

from Sweet Liberty (Charcoal Records)

The first arrivals in Pennsylvania held clear images of home in their minds and fond memories of family close to their hearts. Not all Scots-Irish immigrants were able to settle though, and their lingering homesickness might find an outlet in sad songs. Especially poignant are the verses avowing that one day, the immigrant would return to the old home place. If they accepted that it would not happen in the physical realm, they might yet hope for return from exile in the spirit world and, until then, in their dreams. Irish vocalist Cara Dillon originally comes from Dungiven, County Londonderry, near the spot where the Rivers Roe, Owenreagh, and Owenbeg meet at the foot of Benbradagh. The gentle Northern Irish countryside provides the setting for this sad song, arranged by Cara and her husband and musical partner, Sam Lakeman.

“The Gypsy Laddies”

by Jeannie Robertson


from The Great Scots Traditional Ballad Singer (Topic Records)

(paired with track 8). In Wayfaring Strangers, singer Jack Beck notes that of the top ten ballads collected in southern Appalachia, seven were Scottish, and the second most commonly sung was “The Gypsy Laddie.” Emerging hundreds of years ago in Scotland, the ballad is known throughout the British Isles, Ireland, and North America. It is associated with the Ayrshire house of Cassilis (pronounced “CA-sels”) and sometimes held to be based on a true elopement incident, although it is probably an amalgamation of historical strands. The story of handsome gypsies enthralling a noble lady with their sweet singing has made it very popular with the Scottish Travellers. More than a hundred versions have been collected in Britain, Ireland, and North America. Jeannie Robertson (1908-1975), who grew up in the traveller life, had a vast store of songs and stories and is recognised as a traditional singer of international standing.

– paired with –

“Gypsy Davy”

by Julee Glaub

(Traditional arranged by Julee Glaub)

from Blue Waltz (Toubadouress Music)

(paired with track 7). The song that originated in Scotland as “The Gypsy Laddie” or “The Earl o’ Cassillis Lady” traveled through Ireland as the “Raggle Taggle Gypsy” or “Seven Yellow Gypsies” and settled on American shores as “Black Jack Davy” and “Gypsy Davy.” It is one of the most popular and well traveled of the ballads, and a good example of what can happen to songs as they migrate, with the magical elements in this Scottish version brought back down to earth in Appalachia. The song’s narrative remains strong across the miles, although by the time it evolved into “Gypsy Davy,” it had moved among song cultures from other parts of the world, both old and new. Woody Guthrie recorded “Gypsy Davy,” and Bob Dylan included “Blackjack Davey” on “Good As I Been to You” (1992). Swannanoa Gathering Traditional Song Week Coordinator Julee Glaub Weems draws upon her North Carolina roots and Irish travels in her music. Pete Sutherland accompanies Julee’s singing and offers a clawhammer banjo welcome to the southern Appalachians for “Gypsy Davy.”

“Pretty Saro”

by John Doyle

(Traditional arranged by John Doyle)

from Evening Comes Early (Shanachie Entertainment)

Newfound freedom rarely brought immediate benefits. House and land ownership could be a long time coming to the Scots-Irish. Families struggling to find farmland and newly released indentured servants would dream of gaining the privileged “freeholder” status mentioned in the old ballad “Pretty Saro.” The term gives a clue to the British Isles origins of the ballad, originating in early seventeenth-century England. Early twentieth-century songcatchers, including Dorothy Scarborough, rediscovered it in the North Carolina mountains, where it is still widely sung. Bob Dylan had recorded the song in his “Self Portrait” sessions in 1970, but it did not make the final cut for the album. It was eventually released on Dylan’s box set “Another Self Portrait” in 2013. Singer and guitarist John Doyle—Irish native and Asheville, North Carolina, resident—bestows a dreamy quality upon his arrangement and notes the similarity between “Pretty Saro” and the Irish song “Bunclody.”

“Indian Whoop”

by James Bryan and Carl Jones


from Two Pictures (Martin Records)

One of the very earliest American fiddle tunes, this one was included in G. P. Knauff’s Virginia Reels, an old collection of southern fiddle music with many tunes of Scots-Irish origin. Mississippi string band Hoyt Ming and his Pep Steppers recorded the tune named “Indian War Whoop” in the 1920s with Rozelle Ming flatfoot dancing to the rhythm. Historians of old-time music sometimes point to this tune as an example of “hollering,” as fiddlers would often shout along with the high notes at the end of phrases, with each player having a trademark whoop. A version of the tune was recorded by John Hartford for inclusion in the Coen brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou?  From Alabama, James Bryan is held to be the finest southern-style fiddler of his generation and was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. He has taught on the staffs of the Augusta Heritage Center and the Swannanoa Gathering, as has songwriter-musician Carl Jones.

“The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife”

by Connie Dover

(Traditional arranged by Connie Dover, Roger Landes)

from The Road from Erin (Sono Luminus)

(paired with track 12). Versions of this lively ballad have been traced back to the early seventeenth century throughout the British Isles and Ireland. Usually known as “The Farmer’s Curst Wife,” “Kellyburnbraes” is a Scottish variant collected by Robert Burns for The Scots Musical Museum, Vol IV. Folktales in many European countries tell of a wife so fierce that she terrorized the devil himself. Seosamh Ó hÉanaí (Joe Heaney), the great Irish traditional singer from Connemara, County Galway, was the original source for this particular version, sung by American folk singer Connie Dover, an inductee into the Missouri Music Hall of Fame.

– paired with –

“The Farmer’s Curst Wife”

by Pete Seeger


from American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 2 (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)

(paired with track 11). The tale of a fearsome wife who terrifies even demons is ancient and widespread, appearing in a sixth-century Hindu fable collection, the Panchatantra. It seems to have traveled westward through the Middle East into Europe and onward to America early in the Scots-Irish emigration era. As with “Gypsy Davy” (track 8), the American version of the tale lightens up the story a bit, removing references to the terrifying spouse’s more violent acts toward the demons she encounters. Pete Seeger’s arrangement locates the ballad firmly within America’s folk song canon, his trademark long-neck banjo contrasting with the more urgent Irish instrumentation of track 11.

“Young Hunting/Elzig’s Farewell”

by Sheila Kay Adams

(Traditional arranged by Sheila Kay Adams)

from All The Other Fine Things (Granny Dell Records)

English variants of the song titled “Earl Richard” and “The Proud Girl” remain closely tied to the Scottish original, all detailing the violent act of a scorned woman. The song appears in Motherwell’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, so it would have likely been in the repertoire of Scots who migrated to the Ulster Plantations. In all the Scottish versions, a bird witnesses the murder, but it seems to have flown before the song arrived on U.S. shores, where it is often sung as “Henry Lee” and “Love Henry.” Sheila Kay Adams of Sodom, North Carolina sings her family’s version, passed through seven generations of ballad singers.  She accompanies herself on banjo, with Josh Goforth, fiddle and John Doyle, guitar.

“Black is the Colour”

by Sara Grey

(Traditional arranged by Sara Grey)

from Sandy Boys (Fellside Recordings)

Musicologist and collector Alan Lomax asserted this song’s Scottish origins, calling the American versions “re-makes.” John Jacob Niles retained a modal setting when he contributed one of its more popular melodies. When African American spiritual singing spilled over from plantations, it flowed throughout other regions, including the Appalachians. Sara Grey identifies this song as a Scottish “parlour ballad” that traveled in and out of the African American tradition. She based her version on the singing of Dellie Norton—“Granny Dell” to Sheila Kay Adams—feeling that her treatment of the song was strongly influenced by the African American singing style.

“Nottamun Town”

by Jean Ritchie


from Mountain Hearth & Home (Greenhays Recordings)

Jean Ritchie learned this song from her Uncle Jason Ritchie. It was one of many family songs she carried back to England, Scotland and Ireland in 1952-53 on her Fulbright scholarship travels, to trace their origins.  English folk singer Shirley Collins learned it from Jean and recorded it in 1964, with Scottish guitarist and singer Bert Jansch following her in 1966 on his influential album “Jack Orion”.  When Fairport Convention recorded the song with Sandy Denny in 1968, its return back across the Atlantic was complete.  It is one of a number of ballad versions that were effectively repatriated by Jean.  Back in the U.S., Bob Dylan heard Jean’s version of “Nottamun Town” and used the melody to record  his own song “Masters of War” in 1963.  Although a traditional song, this particular arrangement had been in the Ritchie family for generations.  His lawyers paid Jean a legal settlement against any future writing credit claims.  “Nottamun Town” is a great example of old songs continuing to influence contemporary writing, and of the music migration flowing in both directions.

“Single Girl, Married Girl”

by Atwater Donnelly


from The Blackest Crow (Rabbit Island Music)

This early frontier favorite has many relatives, including the Irish song “Do You Love and Apple” and “Still I Love Him,” collected by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger for their anthology Travellers’ Songs from England and Scotland. The Carter Family made the song famous as their “Single Girl, Married Girl,” released in 1928 on a 78-rpm record. They re-recorded it during the last months of Sara and A. P. Carter’s marriage in 1935 at a slow pace, with Sara Carter singing at a much lower pitch. Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly explore the song in one of several collections they’ve recorded of traditional American/Celtic songs and Carter Family favorites, many collected during their performances throughout Appalachia. With Aubrey Atwater on Appalachian dulcimer, the song is very much at home.

“Shady Grove”

by Doc Watson and David Holt

(Traditional arranged by Doc Watson and David Holt)

from Legacy (High Windy Audio)

The English ballad “Matty Groves,” dating from the seventeenth century or perhaps even earlier, describes an adulterous tryst that ends in murder. When Francis James Child collected the ballad, he listed it as “Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard”. On its transatlantic travels, the melody ended up covering more ground than the ballad narrative; “Shady Grove,” based upon the “Matty Groves” melody, arose in the southern Appalachians around the time of the Civil War. The popular American descendant is noteworthy for its many lyric variations, all in a gentler, brighter vein than the root ballad. Doc Watson sang it as a courtship song to his wife, Rosa Lee, in the early 1940s when he was perfecting his signature flat-pick guitar style. This version, with David Holt partnering on clawhammer banjo, was recorded live at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2001.

“Willie’s Lady”

by Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer

(Traditional arranged by Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer)

from Child Ballads (Wilderland Records) 

Ballads flowed freely between Sweden, Denmark, and Norway and crossed into Aberdeenshire in Scotland’s North East. Scandinavian variants with similar plots to “Willie’s Lady” mark this ballad as an example of those music migrations, and it has all the hallmarks of classic North East balladry. James Francis Child collected only one version of this ballad from Scotland, but he cites a few other stories in his notes, including tales in “classic mythology” where women are prevented from giving birth. Child’s source was Anna Gordon, better known as Mrs. Brown of Falkland, who held one of the most significant and oldest ballad collections drawn from her family’s oral tradition. With all their twisting story lines and hypnotic melodies, the Child Ballad canon continues to captivate musicians. “Willie’s Lady” is one of many that endure in this way, having been recorded by English folksinger and guitarist Martin Carthy among others. Attracted by the archetypes and psychological dramas, Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer take the material to new audiences by reclaiming the songs in their own voices and allowing the stories to build in their vocal/guitar duo.

“Wayfaring Stranger”

by Johnny Cash

(Traditional arranged by Johnny Cash)

from American III: Solitary Man (American Recordings)

Although the exact origins of this popular spiritual are unknown, the lyrics of “Wayfaring Stranger” were first published in 1858 in The Christian Songster.   Also known as “(I Am a) Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, the ancient Scottish ballad melody of “The Dowie Dens of Yarrow” is held to be the source spring of a tune stream that flows through this American spiritual.  Its timelessness is reflected the number and range of artists to record the song, from Burl Ives and Emmylou Harris to Dolly Parton and Ed Sheeran.  Johnny Cash recorded this version towards the end of his life, capturing the sense of vulnerability that infused many of his latter recordings.

“Wayfaring Stranger/British Field March” (instrumental version)

by Timothy Cummings

(Traditional adapted and arranged by Timothy Cummings, Caleb Elder, Pete Sutherland) from The Piper in the Holler (birchenmusic.com)

More than a few sets of bagpipes must have crossed the ocean from Scotland and Ulster, but they never became established on the Pennsylvania frontier or in southern Appalachia. Most theories explaining this settle around the timing of Scots-Irish emigration: in seventeenth-century Ireland, Oliver Cromwell’s troops destroyed many sets of pipes, while the instrument was sidelined for a while after the 1745 defeat of the clans in Scotland. Moreover, pioneers would surely have found them difficult to maintain in the New World, and pipe makers would have needed access to materials and some community of players to sustain their craft. So in Appalachia, it was left to fiddlers, dulcimer players, and banjo pickers to express the drones and modal moods of pipe music. Timothy Cummings is committed to reconnecting the musical traditions of Appalachia and Scottish piping, recording what may be the first bagpipe album devoted to Appalachian music including our book’s signature tune, “Wayfaring Stranger.”  Alan Jabbour collected the “British Field March” from Henry Reed. According to folklore, this tune was played as British soldiers retreated from the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Attuned to the Scottish Lowland heritage of the Scots-Irish, Tim plays Border pipes, with Pete Sutherland on clawhammer banjo and Caleb Elder on fiddle to present the sound of old-time piping.

“The Parting Glass” (instrumental version)

by Al Petteway

(Traditional arranged by Al Petteway)

from Mountain Guitar (Fairewood Studios)

“The Parting Glass” belongs to a family of songs that can be traced back to the early 1600s in Scotland, originally as “Good Night And Joy Be Wi’ You A’”.  Most of the text of the modern “Parting Glass” came from these Scottish versions, sung to a different tune that was popular for over 300 years.  Eventually an Irish melody of unknown origin became the preferred one, settling with the song in a farewell anthem for emigrants leaving for a new life in America. North Carolina’s Grammy-winning instrumentalist Al Petteway is known for his sensitive arrangements of traditional and original tunes on guitar and other stringed instruments. His version of the melody captures the emotion of the bittersweet farewell.

“The Parting Glass”

by Hozier

(Traditional arranged by Hozier)

from The Parting Glass (Live from the Late, Late Show)

Still widely sung on both sides of the Atlantic, “The Parting Glass” was well known in Scotland and Ireland long before Robert Burns’s universal song of farewell, “Auld Lang Syne” came into the popular repertoire. As an eighteenth-century broadside, it would likely have been distributed among the inns and taverns close to the quays where the immigrant sailing ships were docked.  It has been sung innumerable times since then, from Scotland to Ulster and Appalachia. The 1959 recording by The Clancy Bothers and Tommy Makem has been most influential and Bob Dylan used this as a model for his own song “Restless Farewell.”  In more recent times, “The Parting Glass” has become a song of tribute to lost comrades or loved ones and many people have been drawn to it to during the Covid-19 pandemic. Irish singer Hozier performed this version on Irish television’s Late, Late Show as dedication to everyone who lost their lives to Covid-19.  

“A Mountaineer is Always Free”

by Tim O’Brien

(Tim O’Brien and Pierce Pettis)

from The Crossing (Fairewood Studios)

Grammy-winner Tim O’Brien is a native of West Virginia. The seal of his home state bears the inscription “Montani Semper Liberi” –  “Mountaineers Are Always Free”.  Like this song, the motto captures the sense of pride immigrants must have felt, building their lives in the wilderness of the Appalachian frontier and demonstrating their legendary resilience in the face of many a challenge.  Multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter O’Brien co-wrote the song with Alabama singer songwriter Pierce Pettis.  He recorded it as part of “The Crossing”, a collection in which O’Brien explored the Irish and Scottish roots of American Bluegrass and Country music. It serves as a tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Scots-Irish and to all immigrants across time.. Each has their own migration story worthy of a song.

Doug Orr and Fiona Ritchie

[The Wayfaring Strangers Spotify Playlist is curated by Fiona Ritchie for the second edition of “Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia”, foreword by Dolly Parton with a new Afterword by the authors.]

Fiona Ritchie MBE is the founder, producer, and host of National Public Radio’s The Thistle & Shamrock and an inductee into the Folk DJ Hall of Fame. Her books include The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Celtic Music and Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia

Doug Orr is president emeritus of Warren Wilson College, where he founded the Swannanoa Gathering music workshops. His books include The North Carolina Atlas: Portrait for a New Century and Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia