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“1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War” – Anonymous 4/ Bruce Molsky – fiddle, banjo, guitar, vocals – Harmonia mundi

“1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War” – Anonymous 4/ Bruce Molsky – fiddle, banjo, guitar, vocals – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMU 807549, 66:51 ****1/2:

With a few notable exceptions—the Gregg Smith Singers and Mercury Living Presence come immediately to mind—there have not been a lot of quality albums reflecting on the music of the American Civil War. Perhaps the subject is still a little too sensitive to some, perhaps some might consider the idea inappropriate, but the fact remains that much of what we now consider “classic” American songs hail from this era. And even though there are some pieces that were composed many, many years before that unfortunate conflict, it was the war itself that propelled them firmly into the popular mind, and made them educational fodder for generations of Americans.

The songs themselves are often bittersweet, cathartic, and even suggestive of a home life reality that might be more imagined than real. But none of that matters—reading through the texts is like a mini-crash-course on Civil War sentiment. The music is more varied than the texts might suggest—Halevy’s opera Clari, or the Maid of Milan provides, 40 years earlier, the smash hit Home, Sweet Home, the most popular song of the war—on either side. And some songs have perpetuated themselves in other ways; Aura Lea resurfaces as the basis for the Elvis Presley smash hit Love Me Tender many years later.

Anonymous 4 has taken it upon them to create their own arrangements of this music, and for added “authentic” flavoring brings in virtuoso Bruce Molsky to add some salt to this otherwise very sweet-sounding ensemble. This might be my only reservation—though the surround sound is wonderful, and the booklet deluxe in every way, these gals are almost too good for the proper exhibition of the music—I seriously doubt any of these pieces were ever given presentations as polished as what we have here; hence the Molsky element to get the dresses a little dirty.

But the album is a delight, and anyone with an interest in the period or in some hauntingly beautiful songs that were very important to this country, will have a field day.

Tracklist: 

Weeping

Sad and Lonely

Darling Nelly Gray

Hard Times Come Again

No More

Sweet Evelina

Bright Sunny South

The Southern Soldier Boy / Rebel Raid

Tenting on the Old Camp Ground

Aura Lea

Listen to the Mocking Bird

Camp Chase

Brother Green

The Faded Coat of Blue

The Maiden in the Garden

The True Lover’s Farewell

Home, Sweet Home / Polly Put the Kettle On

The Picture on the Wall

Abide with Me

Shall We Gather at the River?

—Steven Ritter

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