You have to listen to Sarah Jarosz performing her song “Annabelle Lee.” Jarosz is a 26-year-old superstar in what I suppose you could call “roots” music; she plays just about every instrument but I’m blown away by her banjo playing. The lyrics for Annabelle Lee are adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s last poem, written in 1849 and published after his death. It’s a creepy story told by a man of his childhood love Annabelle Lee; their love for each other was so strong that it made the angels jealous and led them to do away with her. Jarosz accompanies herself on the banjo, playing in an old, highly rhythmic style called “clawhammer” in which the player strikes the strings with one rigid finger as opposed to plucking the strings as one does in folk or bluegrass banjo. The haunting quality of Jarosz’s voice, together with the modal tune and the driving banjo accompaniment combine to bring Poe’s poem to life in a way that scares me silly every time I hear it.
Hearing this song for the first time made me resolved to learn to play clawhammer banjo.
Poe’s Annabelle Lee