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Ron Radosh

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Divided and United: The Songs of the Civil War

Produced by Randall Poster, Essays by Sean Wilentz and John Cohen.

Meant to honor the memory of the most divisive time in America’s past, the Civil War, this tribute to those who lived in our country at the time is a CD to cherish and play again and again. Indeed, nothing is more appropriate to explore the meaning of the War during its 150th Anniversary than listening to the stories of the soldiers. These citizens fought, lived, loved, and died in the thousands in this time of trouble.

If there is any justice in the music business, this compilation, produced by Randall Poster, music advisor for Wes Anderson’s films, assisted by the bluegrass guitar virtuoso par excellence Bryan Sutton, will win the Grammy for best traditional folk album. The much-abused and actually fairly meaningless term “folk music,”- since those playing the kind of songs on this album call themselves traditional singers and not folk-singers. So too does “Dr.” Ralph Stanley, who on these discs contributes “The Vacant Chair,” a song memorializing the death of Lt. John William Grout of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, who died at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Stanley, whose voice long ago passed from the quality he had as a young man, could be singing in the voice of chastened veterans who themselves might have seen many of their comrades fall in battle.

What makes the performances stellar and unique is that the artists are drawn from the royalty of the best Nashville has to offer. From the community of old-time and traditional singers and pickers, as well as others like the young New Yorker and banjo master Noam Pikelny, they each use their own musical taste to try and capture what they think is how the songs were meant to be played and sung in the era in which they were written.

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