As austerely down-to-earth as the modal melodies of Appalachian folk music can sound, they can also convey profound pining. “The tenderness of a folk song does not arise only from nostalgia about how wonderful everything is back home,” the feminist theologian Wendy Farley once wrote. “Whatever the particularities from which this nostalgic longing arises, it continues to wound our hearts because it is also nostalgia for something no one has ever experienced.” In handed-down tunes, she recognized “desire’s refusal to accept the limitations of life.”

Jewly Hight