There are many fine versions of this traditional folk ballad. This is the best.
Recorded some time between 1960 and 1963, The House Carpenter is one of the highlights on the excellent Watson Family Album which features Doc Watson and various members of his clan. The mournful, and appropriately off-key, vocals on this song are by Annie Watson (Doc’s mother) while the deathly fiddle is played by his father-in-law, Gaither Carlton.
The tale itself is fairly straightforward: a young woman, married to the titular House Carpenter, is lured away to sea by an old lover. Things go badly almost immediately when she begins to mourn the loss of both her husband and baby. And from there things take an even more tragic turn.
It’s all genuinely very sad but with this version, more than any other, you really feel the woman’s pain. The very tone of the song – its starkness and beauty – gives the story an epic, grandly tragic, quality. You can almost hear her howls at sea, crying for the baby she’ll never see again. Utterly heartbreaking. And utterly beautiful.