Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is an endlessly renewable resource of beautiful sadness, and many a modern-day bard has a “Jolene” in their quiver. The White Stripes turned it into garage rock, Olivia Newton John did it as disco, and Norah Jones as cabaret jazz. There is the obligatory house remix. Slow it down to 33rpm and Dolly’s gender begins to blur, while her voice loses none of its plaintive mystique. “Jolene” set a standard for melancholy few, if any, tunes can meet. So, you know, there’s a bardcore cover of “Jolene.”
Bardcore (also called “tavernwave”), has “taken over pop music,” kind of, as you might have learned from Ayun Halliday’s post on bardcore artist Hildegard von Blingin’ here a few weeks back. The short version—bardcore artists make covers of pop songs with medieval instrumentation and vocal stylings. Lyrics are rewritten with archaisms like “I want thine ugly, I want thy disease/Take aught from thee shall I if it can be free,” which are not lyrics to “Jolene,” let’s move on.
What does “Jolene” sound like as bardcore? In a word, spellbinding. And I don’t mean to be cheeky—this is enchanting, not least because, medievalized, the song sounds at times like it could be coming from a tortured nun on the edge of leaving the cloister in the dead of night to run off with a woman named Jolene, whose attributes she lovingly, poetically lays out.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I beg of thee, pray take not my lord
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I fear, from thee, ‘twould take naught but a word
Thy beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Thy smile is like a breath of Spring
Thy voice is soft like Summer rain
And I cannot compete with thee
An ode to jealousy hints at a potentially spicy tale of forbidden romance and broken vows, further tribute to Parton’s skill as a songwriter (and the sexual ambiguity inherent in the song). Hildegard von Blingin’ is not joking, novelty names aside. She has a lovely voice and has invested her medieval covers with high production values and period-correct illuminated music videos.
Everyone listens to house music in Hollywood sci-fi futures, but maybe it’s bardcore they’ll play on the interstellar cruise ships. “’Tis a veritable phenomenon on t’internet,” says bardcore creator Cornelius Link (which means it could go the way of vaporwave). For years, medieval memes have been hot online currency, for reasons we need not get too pop-sociological about. They’re fun and weird and alien and WTF and remind us that it could be worse, I guess. They appeal to Gen Z’s “existential humour.” They were Games of Thrones-y. They’re cooler than Harry Potter.
For most of medieval times, plague was on everyone’s mind. “The pandemic is thought to be significant,” says Link, “with a new Black Death hovering over us all.” But if we’re talking about “Jolene,” we’re talking about a song that “registers with the basest of bitterness we’ve all felt,” hither and thither, shut up in convents or locked down in our houses. Explore more not-“Jolene” bardcore jams here.
via Boing Boing
Listen to Medieval Covers of “Creep,” “Pumped Up Kicks,” “Bad Romance” & More by Hildegard von Blingin’
Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” Slowed Down to 33RPM Sounds Great and Takes on New, Unexpected Meanings
With Medieval Instruments, Band Performs Classic Songs by The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica & Deep Purple
Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” Played with Medieval Instruments, and Kickstart More Medieval Covers
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
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