I’m always on the lookout for good, traditional American songs. When my friend lent me his copy of The Civil War, a 1998 Broadway musical, I was quickly captivated and hypnotized. I usually am not a fan of musicals, but there is something about this one that’s different. As a history buff, I was thrilled track after track, just trying to feel as much music and soul as I could. I can tell you that you will appreciate this music. History fanatic or not, the album’s patriotic hymns will be sure to appeal to your emotions and make you smile.
The music is performed in different styles, but with a single theme at mind: the environment of the Civil War. While some songs may have been popular at the time of the Civil War, that isn’t pertinent to the goal and spirit of the soundtrack. The tracks achieve the goals of the album with an amalgam of instruments including fiddles, brass instruments, vocals, pianos, string instruments, and woodwinds. The vocals are spooky, energetic, soulful, and realistic. You can’t help but think that they’ve revived a set of Civil War soldiers and key players to record this studio album. Of course, it helps that the musicians playing all the instruments execute their parts flawlessly.
The first song in the album is a somber tune called “Brother, my Brother” sung by Michael Lanning. It’s a sad tune about the state of affairs between the north and the south (those who are wearing blue on the battlefield and those who are wearing gray). Don’t worry; not all the tunes are sad and about the split between the north and the south. Sons of Dixie and the Broadway All Stars sing a battle cry called “By The Sword.” The song essentially comes down to the rebels (or the Confederates) being struck down by the swords of the Union soldiers for the sake of the Union. These songs at first may not seem thematically the same, but I can just imagine soldiers having these seemingly opposing viewpoints without being contradictory.
For those of you who are romantics, like myself, there is something for you in this album, too. Usually songs about a war era seem to miss out on the fact that there are stories beyond the battlefield. This is not so when Deana Carter sings a beautiful track in “Missing You (My Bill)”—a sweet song about how a lover gets by waiting for her significant other to come back from the war. It’s just enough to make you cry, if not at least smile. John Popper & Friends sings another love tune, “Northbound Train,” this time from the perspective of a soldier who is just counting the days until he climbs on a train back home to his lover. Both are very similar in theme, heart, and soul; not only are the lyrics and vocals superb, but the accompanying music is, too. The tracks are well designed and well executed.
The album isn’t only musical. Every so often the listener is entertained with a soliloquy or speech about the civil war and the social problems at the time. For example, the first track in the album is a prologue, a chilling quote from Walt Whitman explaining the tragedy of the Civil War clearly and concisely recited by Charlie Daniels. Another chilling speech is spoken by Danny Glover, called, “My Name is Frederick Douglass.” It is a thought-provoking soliloquy on the conflict of slavery. While the words in these speeches are wonderful, it is really the music in the background that make them enjoyable to listen to; they set a tone that can be only described as epic.
I have never seen The Civil War, but if the soundtrack is any indication, I’m sure it would be a great show. This album is the epitome of classical American songwriting. The lyrics are thought provoking, awe-inspiring, and wonderful to sing along to. The songs are well composed, the lyrics are well written, and the music is well executed. I have only one complaint: the label of the album has discontinued the production of the album. Good luck finding this album—it’s a treat!