Cruel (Haul Away)

Today we have Appalachian storyteller and ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams singing an American mountain version of an old British ballad, variously known as ‘Cruel’ or ‘Haul Away’.

I know very little about this song. I first heard a recognisable variant of it on Kate Rusby’s album ‘Underneath the Stars’, credited as ‘Lyrics: K. Rusby/Trad.; Tune: K. Rusby’. However, Kate’s tune is quite similar to the one Sheila Kay Adams sings in this video, which is described as ‘a song she learned from her cousin Berzilla Wallin’. So whether Kate wrote a tune that was actually quite close to a traditional source, or Berzilla Wallin learned her tune from a very contemporary singer, I couldn’t say! I do know, however, that a recognizably similar set of lyrics appears in a songbook with the marvellous name of ‘The Universal Songster, Or, Museum of Mirth, Forming the Most Complete, Extensive, and Valuable Collection of Ancient and Modern Songs in the English Language : with a Copious and Classified Index‘, published in London by Jones and Company in 1828 (see Google Books e-text here; ‘Oh, Cruel’ is on page 43).

Sheila Kay Adams was born in Tennessee in 1953 and grew up in North Carolina. She is the seventh generation of traditional ballad singers in her family, and first performed in front of an audience in 1976, accompanying her grandmother onstage at Duke University. She has recorded several albums of traditional songs, as well as publishing collections of stories. This page gives a good outline of her life and career to date.


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