Funny what you find in the Wall Street Journal. Surprisingly, it was the most in-depth review I was able to find for this new collection of music, Divided and United: The Songs of the Civil War. There's also this piece on All Things Considered.
It seems that Randall Poster, the producer of the 2-CD set, was trying to strike a balance between the two sides of the war, drawing on both Union and Confederate marching songs and ballads. He's drawn an impressive range of musicians to the music, allowing each to pretty much arrange their own pieces. Poster has done great work before, so I'm really looking forward to this set.
You get everyone from T-Bone Burnett, who has arranged two folk soundtracks for the Coen Brothers, to Loretta Lynn, the undisputed Queen of Nashville. In between you get some earthy renditions from Steve Earle, best known for his work on the television series Treme these days, to the Carolina Chocolate Drops, one of my favorite contemporary folk bands.
Not so long ago Bob Dylan came under fire for borrowing lyrics from Henry Timrod, a Civil War soldier, for his album Modern Times.. Dylan had long been known for scouring archives for earthy American lyrics, noted Sean Wilentz, who has also written the liner notes for this Civil War collection.
Some critics have questioned the seeming neutrality of the box set. Poster apparently didn't want to take sides, letting the songs speak for themselves, which in this case is the way it should be. After all, Dan Emmett's Dixie is a far more gut-wrenching song than The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and was a favorite of Lincoln.
Hopefully, an album like this will help popularize the music, which is still be played by bands like The 2nd South Carolina String Band around the country. I don't think you have to be a Civil War buff to appreciate this music.