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Divided and United, Songs of the Civil War that Demand to be Heard Again and Again

I am tempted to go through all the songs, since many are so excellent. Del McCoury and his bluegrass band give us “Lorena,” performed in today’s bluegrass style; the Carolina Chocolate Drops give us “Day of Liberty,” with Rhiannon Giddens’ gorgeous voice shining in her vocal and old-time banjo picking. The group, dedicated to resurrecting the African-American old-time music tradition of forgotten groups that sang with five-string banjo and other traditional instruments, appropriately gives us one about the urge for freedom by black slaves. Noam Pikelny and David Grisman give us a master instrumental of “Old Folks at Home” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” It is a pairing of an old timer with a new artist - Grisman was Jerry Garcia’s partner in “Old and In the Way,” and Pikelny is perhaps the best of the group of New York City’s new five-string banjo masters. Finally, Ashley Monroe sings “Pretty Saro” beautifully, in a mournful voice, with fiddle accompaniment by Aubrey Haynie. Many of you will know it from Bob Dylan’s equally beautiful version that appears in his recent release of “Another Self-Portrait,” the no.10 in The Bootleg Series.

There is much more material that Poster could have chosen to include. My only regret is that he did not commission anyone to do “The Cruel War,” which some say is actually a song from the Revolutionary War, but is widely regarded as a ballad made popular during the Civil War. In an album devoted to the theme that John Cohen writes “seeks reconciliation” through music of the “heritage of America born in pain, war and prejudice,” this ballad about a woman who seeks to accompany her male lover to battle and pleads with him not to go to war, is certainly universal. There are many fine recorded versions, but I would have loved to hear Alison Krauss attempt a version.

Nevertheless, this is perhaps the single best compilation of Civil War songs, performed by artists of great integrity, from superstars of country including Loretta Lynn, Lee Ann Womack, Vince Gill and Dolly Parton, to bluegrass pickers like Bryan Sutton and Stuart Duncan, Del McCoury, Ralph Stanley, Chris Thile, Noam Pikelny and David Grisman, to folk pickers like Jorma Kaukonen, Norman and Nancy Blake, and Taj Mahal. And there are the new traditional string bands including the fabulous Old Crow Medicine Show, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Shovels and Ropes.

So read some books on the Civil War, and take a break, and listen to Divided and United. Perfect for a fine relaxing weekend, or even today, this Veterans Day.