NPR logo The Authentic Sounds of 'Scarlet Town'

The Authentic Sounds of 'Scarlet Town'

Ballad of Scarlet Town

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Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "The Ballad of Scarlet Town"
  • Artist: Johnny and the Moon
  • CD: Johnny and the Moon
  • Genre: Roots

Johnny and the Moon's songs recall the unrefined ballads of old Appalachia. hide caption

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There's something delightfully imperfect in the music of Johnny and the Moon: Maybe it's the unadorned acoustic-guitar strumming, the improvised metallic clattering that sometimes functions as percussion, or the slightly out-of-tune and often flat-falling vocals of frontman Dante DeCaro. In spite of the imperfection, or perhaps because of it, Johnny and the Moon's songs recall the unrefined ballads of old Appalachia.

Although the album contains a fair amount of clichéd folk melodies and lyrics — one song even has a chorus of "diddle ay-yay" — "The Ballad of Scarlet Town" conveys authenticity without sounding hackneyed. The upbeat rhythm, acoustic guitar, tambourine jangle and minimal harmonica also make it one of the album's least-accessorized songs. Each verse contains a like-structured miniature character sketch ("I am a troubled boy from the hills that you know," "I am a lonesome girl from the hearth that you found"), each cut short by a resounding wordless chorus. It's in these fleeting verses that Johnny and the Moon abandons a bit of its authenticity: While a traditional ballad contains a complete narrative, "The Ballad of Scarlet Town" only begins the story. It's up to listeners to determine the conclusion.

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