Ah, with regard to Linda's comment on the need for singers ballads to abridge their basic story line-- I suppose telling stories is what characterizes a ballad as opposed to other genres but the incremental repitions that bore her can also be very important.
They give the songs a ritualistic quality-- for me part of the challenge is drawing the audience into a shared mystery, at least with some of the old ballads where there is lots of repetition. Many of us have heard the stories many times, but the very fact we want to hear them again and again, often in multiple versions, suggest that a lot of us are into the ballads as community ritual. WIlla Muir thinks of songs like Lord Randal, for instance, as rehearsals for death. You go through the motions of leaving your mother this, your father that. In The Border Widow, the widow sews a shroud, carries the body, buried that body, mourns the body. I think she had a point.
These are complex decisions for a singer to make, and I would not expect all folk enthusiasts to make a beeline for the ballad room. But for those of us who love them, it would be hard to leave.