Sad13 of Speedy Ortiz shared a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Delia’s Gone,” which she recorded for the Songs In The Key Of Death podcast. She and Bonnie “Prince” Billy have been taking turns recording covers of ‘murder ballads’ for the podcast, which will start airing on June 16, 2021.
Songs In The Key Of Death is presented by Nevermind Media and hosted by music critic/author Courtney Smith. The podcast’s intro explains what it’s about. “Songs about murder, ‘murder ballads,’ have captivated audiences for centuries and scared them out of their wits,” Smith states. “But you know, sometimes the songs get it wrong, and sometimes they leave out the most sordid details, and that’s where we come in. Songs In The Key Of Death looks at the true history and real-life inspiration for famous murder ballads, from the old world to the old west, to the 16th century to the 21st.”
On “Delia,” Sad13 updates Cash’s 1962 classic with lyrics that accurately represent the details behind Delia’s death. Delia was a 13-year-old Black girl from Georgia who was shot to death one Christmas night. More information about the history of the killing can be found on the podcast here. Sad13 sings from the perspective of the man that the murderer was jealous of, “Delia was my true love/From the town on over/A boy was jealous of her/As a dog ate up her bones/And now he’s gone/I’ll whisper to her all alone.”
The song is vastly different from the original(s) instrumentally as well. Both of Cash’s versions of the song, one from 1962’s The Sound of Johnny Cash and a re-recording from 1994’s American Recordings, had been standard guitar-and-vocal recordings. Sad13’s rendition is a lush recording with psychedelic keyboards and synth strings, among various electronic effects. Sad13 kept some of Cash’s country accent in her vocals and stuck to the same melody, but otherwise made the song anew.
Sad13 released her most recent album, Haunted Painting, in September 2020. She warmed up for the murder ballads covers with several other covers, including versions of songs by Rilo Kiley, Phantom Planet, Cloud Nothings and Yusef/Cat Stevens.
Photo credit: Raymond Flotat