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'Divided & United' - US Civil War album

Desert Dancer 05 Nov 13 - 02:21 AM
Lighter 05 Nov 13 - 09:49 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 05 Nov 13 - 12:46 PM
KB in Iowa 05 Nov 13 - 02:07 PM
Lighter 05 Nov 13 - 02:46 PM
Lighter 05 Nov 13 - 03:12 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 05 Nov 13 - 03:39 PM
Lighter 05 Nov 13 - 04:13 PM
Elmore 06 Nov 13 - 03:44 PM
Elmore 06 Nov 13 - 03:48 PM
Greg F. 07 Nov 13 - 01:43 PM
Joe Offer 07 Nov 13 - 02:37 PM
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Subject: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 05 Nov 13 - 02:21 AM

'Divided & United's' Civil War music bridges eras

The two-CD set 'Divided & United' featuring the likes of Loretta Lynn, Ashley Monroe, Taj Mahal and John Doe commemorates the conflict but delivers a nod to today's polarization.

By Randy Lewis
The Los Angeles Times
November 2, 2013

Many of the songs on "Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War" had been long relegated to the dustbins of history before executive producer Randall Poster decided to pair the 19th century tunes with contemporary artists such as Ashley Monroe and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

But beyond giving fresh treatments to nearly three dozen songs and commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the project also delivers an allegory for the political polarization of the U.S. today.

"I had read a lot about it, so I wanted to cover all the various angles, both geographic and emotional angles, in terms of songs of the North, songs of the South, songs of liberation, specific battle songs," said Poster, a music supervisor for, among many others, the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire," the 2012 feature film "Moonrise Kingdom" and the 2010 film "Country Strong." "Then there was the trove of sentimental pieces of love and loss, family at home, soldiers who were away from their families."

Most of the artists on this two-CD set are country, bluegrass and folk musicians, with a few from other genres, notably John Doe of L.A. punk band X, veteran blues musician Taj Mahal and Jefferson Airplane founding member Jorma Kaukonen. The participants also include veterans Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Ralph Stanley and Del McCoury as well as young Turks Jamey Johnson and Shovels & Rope.

Several of the songs covered have been passed on from generation to generation, from the Confederate anthem "Dixie" to Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" to the folk-country classic "Wildwood Flower." Some have morphed into new guises, notably "Aura Lee," the haunting ballad of separated lovers that became "Love Me Tender" in the hands of Elvis Presley.

"Just Before the Battle, Mother/Farewell, Mother," sung here by Steve Earle, is clearly the source of the melody that Woody Guthrie appropriated for his "Hobo's Lullaby."

Lee Ann Womack, in whose kitchen the idea first came up when Poster was spending time in Nashville working on "Country Strong" in 2010, sings "The Legend of the Rebel Soldier," in which an imprisoned Confederate soldier who knows he's going to die in a Yankee jail without seeing home, asks a visitor, "Oh Parson, tell me quickly, will my soul pass through the Southland?"

The emotions of participants and bystanders during war expressed in many of the "Divided & United" songs are not, of course, limited to individual battles, states or even a single war.

"Great music really is timeless," Womack said. "These things have a way of living on and on. Regardless of whether you actually lived through the Civil War, the emotion and pain in these songs is still there.

"I was listening to the rest of the CD, and when the Loretta Lynn song came on, it blew me away," Womack said, referring to "Take Your Gun and Go, John," an exhortation from a wife to her husband to do his part in the war, including this line: "Don't fear for me or the kids, dear John, I'll care for them, you know."

"It reminded me," Womack said, "that this is what music is supposed to do: take you somewhere, educate you. You can almost hear Loretta saying, 'Honey, sit down, I'm gonna tell you a story.' It's beautiful."

For those who wrote, sang or heard these songs 150 years ago, they were anything but simple entertainment.

"This violent revolution touched every aspect of American life, including popular culture," historian Sean Wilentz writes in an accompanying essay. "In music, familiar songs, some made famous by the blackface minstrel stars of the day, offered courage and consolation, but in a new, and sometimes grueling, emotional key. ... Brand new songs, which were sometimes rewritten versions of old ones, stoked patriotic fervor and recorded terrible battles, while they registered the range of feelings from anguish to triumphant glee. Thereafter, American song would never sound the same."

To wrangle nearly three dozen songs and performers, Poster essentially delegated production of several of the tracks to other collaborators, including Nashville studio ace Bryan Sutton and L.A.-based producer-songwriter-singer Joe Henry, both of whom have their own tracks in addition to those they produced.

Henry handled the musicians based in California, including Doe — who has long nurtured an appreciation for vintage folk, country and blues when he isn't busy thrashing his electric bass with X — and Chris Hillman, a founding member of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Stephen Stills' Manassas and the Desert Rose Band, among other groups.

Hillman chose to sing Foster's anguished "Hard Times" a song that had a significant resurgence in the pop music world in the 1980s when Bruce Springsteen, Nanci Griffith, Jennifer Warnes, James Taylor and numerous others revisited it on records or in concert.

"I'm somewhat of a Civil War buff," said Hillman, 68. "It was an unbelievable moment in the history of this country. I love history, but the Revolutionary War I'm not as up on, and it didn't resonate for me as much as the Civil War. There were so many layers of things going on. I didn't realize until about 10 years ago that [Abraham] Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and had done so many illegal things at the time. What this album does for me is it retells the story. So much of the music carries a semblance of a look back and keeps it alive."

Keeping a bygone era alive doesn't happen without its challenges.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a historically astute band that has delved into 19th and early 20th century African American music since forming almost a decade ago, recorded "Day of Liberty." As written, the song includes references to "darkies," "whitey" and "massa" that presented a historical and ethical dilemma as the Chocolate Drops tackled song that joyfully anticipates the promise of freedom Lincoln and the Union Army held out for slaves.

"You don't want to sanitize it," lead singer Rhiannon Giddens said, "but you also don't want it to distract from the overall message of the song. In this case, we changed it because we didn't want the language to become the focal point. It was pretty easy because it was just a word here and a word there."

That's part of the broad spectrum of perspectives and emotions Poster set out to capture in "Divided & United."

Poster also wanted to tacitly salute many of the influential musicians who have kept this music alive through the century and a half since the Civil War, from country's pioneering Carter Family in the 1920s and '30s to the Country Gentlemen in the '50s and '60s through progressive country and roots musicians including David Grisman and the Grateful Dead. Many songs those acts recorded were among those selected for "Divided & United."

Ashley Monroe sings "Pretty Saro," the lament of a poor young man saying farewell to his love, who abandons him for a "freeholder who owns a house and land."

"With a lot of these songs you actually felt what that person was writing," said Monroe, 27. "They weren't thinking about 'This needs a bridge' or 'Where's the chorus here?' They simply, exactly expressed what they were feeling and put to a beautiful melody. Those are the ones that endure."

In some respects, songs are more revealing even than original newspaper accounts, diaries or first-person accounts of battles.

"The songs that come out of that era are the most reliable history we have," producer Henry said. "Songs are fluid the way the world is fluid. It's one thing to document events with names and dates. But it's quite another to document a time and an emotional landscape in song."

And for Henry, as with several other of the "Divided & United" participants, the modern-day relevance is clear. It's mere coincidence but hardly irrelevant that the album is surfacing so recently after partisan bickering in Washington, D.C., resulted in a partial government shutdown for 16 days.

"We're still involved in a civil war, one that feels more pronounced than at almost any time in my adult life," he said. "Sadly, it feels incredibly resonant to be revisiting in any way such a divisive time in the nation's history.

"We're not looking at it through the lens of nostalgia but through the lens of affirmation," he said. "We're not nearly evolved as a country as we advertise ourselves to be."

short video preview

coverage from the Wall Street Journal

Available from iTunes and Amazon.com Nov. 5.

~ Becky in Long Beach


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Lighter
Date: 05 Nov 13 - 09:49 AM

The album may be great but I'm ROFL mirthlessly over this:

"The songs that come out of that era are the most reliable history we have."

Really? More reliable than, say, the Confederate Constitution or the Emancipation Proclamation?

More reliable than any of the 70,000 books about the Civil War, many of them by participants?

Not mention analyses by professional historians of every stripe.

Jeez. I didn't realize all you need to know are the lyrics to smash hits like "Dixie" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

High-schoolers take note!


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Nov 13 - 12:46 PM

"It was pretty easy because it was just a word here and there."
Any historical value to "Day of Liberty" effectively whitewashed.

I agree with Lighter; the producer Henry contributes salesmanship, but his remarks about "reliable history" are nonsense.

Tom Roush sings some of these old songs correctly on his albums; they are records of personal grief, emotions and opinions of the time, but they are only adjuncts to history.


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: KB in Iowa
Date: 05 Nov 13 - 02:07 PM

I'm somewhat of a Civil War buff," said Hillman, 68. "... I didn't realize until about 10 years ago that [Abraham] Lincoln suspended habeas corpus...

Holy Cr*p. I knew that when I was not yet 10 years old. Didn't know then what it meant but I knew about it. It is in my American Heritage Civil War history book written for kids.

Ditto the remark about the songs being the 'most reliable history'. They can be great stuff but not the most reliable history. Especially when the performers go around changing 'a word here and a word there'.


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Lighter
Date: 05 Nov 13 - 02:46 PM

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a terrific group.

But...

To judge from the sample at eMusic, "Day of Liberty" is at least partly a recitative of Henry Clay Work's Civil War song, "Wake Nicodemus!" The words "massa," "darkies," and "whitey" aren't in it.

So what's going on? I don't know of any CW song called "Day of Liberty," and so far I haven't found one online.

"The Legend of the Rebel Soldier," sung on the album by Lee Ann Womack, was written by Charlie Moore around 1970.

"Two Brothers" is a nice song, but it was written in 1951 by Irving Gordon, composer of "Unforgettable."

Not what I'd call "the most reliable history we have" in any case.

But, hey, that's show biz! Enjoy the album.


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Lighter
Date: 05 Nov 13 - 03:12 PM

Q has satisfied my doubts about "De Day ob Liberty's Comin'" (1862) on another thread.

But the word "whitey" isn't in it.

The story of Lincoln and habeas corpus is a complicated one. Of questionable legality in 1861, the suspension was made legal by the U.S. Congress in 1863 "for the duration of the present rebellion" only. It provided among other things for the release of political prisoners (i.e., Southern sympathizers). The U.S. Supreme Court judged the Congressional legislation Constitutional but limited its application further.

Had Lincoln done "so many illegal things" of any consequence, I suspect the Democrats would have tried to impeach him. Most of them opposed the war anyway.


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Nov 13 - 03:39 PM

Wurzel (= Root) used "white folks" in his song.

I have a suspicion that "whitey" is a 20th c. epithet.


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Lighter
Date: 05 Nov 13 - 04:13 PM


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Elmore
Date: 06 Nov 13 - 03:44 PM

Thanks, Desert Dancer. Sounds like an interesting collection.


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Elmore
Date: 06 Nov 13 - 03:48 PM

P.S. I enjoy your posts because they're informative and POSITIVE.


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Greg F.
Date: 07 Nov 13 - 01:43 PM

I didn't realize until about 10 years ago that [Abraham] Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and had done so many illegal things at the time.

Uh Huh.

Now of course the Slave Power didn't do any "Illegal Things" like 'nullifying' Federal laws (where's Andy Jackson when you need him?), confiscating United States property or taking up arms against the legally constituted United States Government.

Neo-Confederacy at its finest.

Of course, the present crop of Southern RepubliClowns - Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Graham & all the rest - have been channeling John C. Calhoun & the Southern Fire Eaters of the 1840's and 50's for quite a while - revisiting the U.S. of 150 years ago.


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Subject: RE: 'Divided & United' - US Civil War album
From: Joe Offer
Date: 07 Nov 13 - 02:37 PM

This album can be heard on Spotify. I'm surprised it's available to soon after the publication date.

-Joe-


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