This song is so old nobody knows where it came from. It was documented as an Atlantic sea shanty in 1876, and there are suggestions it grew out of an old Afro-American spiritual. So you can bawl it out in a rum-flavored roar, or you can take a twangy campfire twist, or you can do something different, as with the soft, contemplative version I’m recommending by Keith Jarrett.
There’s another story of the song: A lyric goes “Oh, Shenandoah, I loved your daughter”, and the father so addressed is apparently a historical figure. Wikipedia calls him Skenendoa, an elected chief of the Oneida, a tall commanding man with a long colorful life — he outlived the century of his birth. He fought on the American side in their Revolutionary war and became a Christian.
There’s a story too about The Melody At Night, With You, the Keith Jarrett album on which Shenandoah appears. Jarrett was pretty well immobilized with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 1998. He says “I have my studio right next to the house, so if I woke up and had a half-decent day, I would turn on the tape recorder and play for a few minutes. I was too fatiqued to do more.” The treatment has no pace nor indeed much energy, but a thousand tiny little sweet touches.
Links · Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. Or, well, maybe you want something completely different? Tom Waits and Keith Richards go somewhere completely different, on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon.