Music Review: “Divided & United: The Songs of The Civil War” – Various Artists [ATO Records]

Divided & United: Songs of the Civil War

One of he bloodiest periods in American history, the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression as it’s often referred to south of the Mason/Dixon,) left deep and lingering cultural wounds in the nation’s psyche. These scare are often picked at by the ignorant, the malicious and those depraved enough to exploit them for power.

It’s said that music as a healing and uniting force. I believe it can be. Like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 watershed release, “Will the Circle be Unbroken, Movie soundtrack producer Randall Poster’s “Divided and United – Songs of the American Civil War” beings together generations of country and roots musicians to interpret’s songs from both sides of the conflict.

Legends abound on “Divided and United.” Loretta Lynn’s take on “Take Your Gun and Go, John” is a stark with Lynn’s accompanied by banjo and fiddle. Her Southern lilt put an odd twist on this popular Union call to arms.

Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs conjure bluegrass magic on the lost love lament “Lorena” and the bloody tale of brothers-in-arms “Two Soldiers,” respectively.

New blood represents the past equal aplomb. Sam Amidon’s gives a spirited performance on Joseph Philbrick Webster’s 1860 composition “Wildwood Flower” and new Opry inductees Old Crow Medicine Show give passionate performance on the globally popular “Marching Through Georgia,” though their double-time conclusion would have troops marching right past their destination.

Dirk Powell and Steve Earle trade off dutifully on the “Just Before the Battle, Mother Farewell, Mother” and makes me wish that Earle would tackle more music in this vein. Vince Gill’s expressive voice brings out the innate melancholy of a drummer boy fatally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg on “For The Dear Old Flag, I Die.”

Charleston duo Shovels & Rope give a woozy ramshackle rendition of, naturally, “The Fall of Charleston.” John Doe’s cajun flair to “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” and it’s ground-level account of loss and battle.

A collection like this wouldn’t be complete without the presence off T Bone Burnett, But instead of his usual shepherding of the effort he lends his halting voice to recounting the single bloodiest event in American history on “The Battle of Antietam.”

In many ways “Divided and United” tills the same ground as Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 watershed release, “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” Ages-old, deeply rooted, American music draws together generations in common reverence and celebration. This wonderful collection has the added dimension of addressing past scars and bringing just a little humility, understanding and empathy.

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2 thoughts on “Music Review: “Divided & United: The Songs of The Civil War” – Various Artists [ATO Records]

  1. Arlene
    December 2, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    I love this compilation. One comment- You note that Loretta Lynn’s “Southern lilt put an odd twist on this popular Union call to arms” [‘Take Your Gun and Go, John.’ ] While I understand the sentiment, the fact is that she’s from Butcher Holler, Kentucky, and during the Civil War, Kentucky remained part of the Union, rather than join the Confederacy.

  2. Baron Lane
    December 2, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Arlene, Thanks for your comment and good catch! I need to brush up on my American history.

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