Paul Clayton

Unholy Matrimony

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Paul Clayton is one of the unsung heroes of the '60s folk revival. He was an avid collector of folk songs and an early companion of Bob Dylan, who may have been influenced by Clayton's low-key, half-sung, half-spoken delivery. He's remembered today, if at all, because it's been said that Dylan wrote "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "It Ain't Me, Babe" about their relationship. It's widely known that Clayton's song "Who's Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I'm Gone" was the template for "Don't Think Twice," although the melody was a traditional one Clayton collected during his travels as a folklorist. All that said, this is one of Clayton's most exuberant albums, full of songs about the pitfalls of marriage and the wicked ways of women. (Clayton was gay, so maybe he was playfully venting some of his anger at heterosexual hegemony.) Clayton is accompanied here by future Greenbriar Boy Bob Yellin on banjo and cittern, a medieval stringed instrument that sounds like a harpsichord. The arrangements are simple -- old-time music meets bluegrass -- but Clayton's sly vocals bring these tales of misfortune and cuckoldry to life. "Stay Away from the Girls" delineates the horrors of married life; Yellin's banjo gives the tune an extra kick. "I Wish I Was Single Again" is one of the best-known songs about the hazards of marriage, again benefiting from Yellin's sprightly banjo. "The Old Wife Who Wanted Spruncin'" is slightly more feminist, the story of a widow who still enjoys sex, but her children conspire against her, embarrassed by her carrying on. "Life on the Installment Plan" became a folk hit under the title "A Dollar Down and a Dollar a Week," a warning about living beyond your means. "The Farmer's Servant" is a variation of a bawdy British song, and with a slight rewrite, it became a big pop hit called "The Thing" for comedy singer Phil Harris. "A Quick Way to Be Rid of a Wife" is a brief, gleeful tale of murder, set to the tune of the sea shanty "Early in the Morning." "The Husband with No Courage in Him" has the album's prettiest melody, probably from Scotland originally, the lament of a maid who has married a man with no interest in sex. It's the only tune that tells the story from the viewpoint of a woman, and the doleful minor-key melody gives the tune a poignant air that's missing from the rest of the album.

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