Inspired by the successful Civil War documentary from Ken Burns, this powerful soundtrack tackles many diverse musical styles from traditional folk and bluegrass to black gospel and outlaw country.
Prompted by the success Ken Burns's popular Civil War documentary (which spawned its own soundtrack), Songs of the Civil War presents an eclectic assortment of contemporary performers tackling period pieces that date back to the War Between the States. Here's Sweet Honey in the Rock tackling the slave lament "No More Auction Block for Me," Judy Collins singing "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and Kate and Anna McGarrigle essaying the lovely (and very suitable) "Hard Times Come Again No More." Between performances by name artists (Kathy Mattea, Waylon Jennings, and Richie Havens among them), instrumentals performed by the U.S. Military Academy Band provide a sense of time and place. --Steven Stolder
The initial recordings of these Texas "punk-bluegrass" heroes, Bad Livers' Dust on the Bible dusts off 10 country-gospel classics that banjoist-guitarist Danny Barnes first learned as a boy, "sitting next to his Grandma in Church." The gospel standards here--everything from roof raisers like "Workin' on a Building" to sweet hymns like "Precious Memories"--offer a gentler version of the band's music than we've come to expect, one filled with a moving and abiding reverence for country tradition that you always suspected was behind the band's more frenzied material, but which has never before been so prominently displayed. Recorded on four-track in Barnes's spare bedroom in 1991, each cut here has the casual charm of a back-porch jam session, but the spirited bluegrass medley of "I Saw the Light," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and "I'll Fly Away" probably soars closest to heaven. --David Cantwell
Hazel Dickens has chosen to put herself and her music to work for the benefit of people faced with struggle. The vocal styles she uses, strident, vigorous and harsh, or wistful, lonesome and melancholy, combining elements of Southern church singing, country music and bluegrass, are those of a country woman who identifies with the most basic aesthetic and ethical values of her people. Generations who follow us and who have forgotten the top ten tunes on today's pop and country music charts will know and respect Hazel's music because hers is art of timeless and enduring values. --Ralph Rinzler, from his liner notes
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Few singers have fused lonesome beauty and political passion in the way Hazel Dickens has, though with her voice she could deliver a speech by Newt Gingrich and still break your heart. She writes like a bluegrass-trained Woody Guthrie and sings with the high, sparkling vulnerability of Loretta Lynn--but with even more grit, more pain--relaying the stories, past and present, of the "hard-working people" she grew up with and lived with her whole life. This 1980 album is Dickens's best and most radical. She shines an intense, honest light on the plight of the mining communities--men and women, old and young--of her native West Virginia, and her version of "Aragon Mill," a gorgeous hymn to workers' despair, is sung the way the song should be. A great group of musicians backs her, including Norman and Nancy Blake, Lloyd Green, Buddy Spicher, and Tony Trischka, but Dickens's brilliance is most clear on the wailing a cappella gospel "Beautiful Hills of Galilee": in every note, her strong, authentic character is undeniable. --Roy Kasten