The Rural Rhythms label has released a rather unusual compilation of new original songs about the Civil War, commemorating a gathering of mostly unsung participants who fought and died in the hallowed then-and-now corporate cruelty we call 'war', this time back in the mid-1800s (Smedley Butler, USMC, a heroic soldier himself, btw, had a few things to say about this in the classic War is a Racket). The CD's intent focuses on those who displayed "amazing acts of kindness, selflessness, faith, love, and brotherhoood to their fellow Americans", and that mission's well carried out by a roster of crack bluegrass, country, and folk musicians, always with respect for the human spirit and more than once with irony. The first of those paradoxes is the cover of a soldier administering the old dip-in-the-river that newly minted Christians received as they entered the faith back then (and still today in many cases)…in this case painted by Hongmin Zou.
Both Union and Confederate heroes are celebrated, and the tales herein will sometimes evoke a delighted laugh as a tear is shed, as in the 70 year old John Burns, a vet of the War of 1812, who met the Union Army as they marched to meet an opposing contingent from the South, and who refused to stay in the rear as he was ordered, moving to the front lines instead. He received not one, not two, but three bullets and kept fighting before falling and tricking several Johnny Rebs to carry "an innocent old man" back to his wife, where he recovered. The feisty old coot might never have read Sun Tzu, but he understood the uses of deception in war. Then there was the amazing civilian Carrie McGavock, whose plantation was commandeered as a field hospital, which she readily joined, treating the wounded and dying of both sides, later spending her fortune and the rest of her life burying the more than one thousand soldiers who'd crossed over in the battle on her acreage, recording every name so that families on both sides could know what had happened to their sons, brothers, and fathers.
The booklet accompanying the CD is crucially important, 16 pages of lyrics and little known history, and I'm unaccustomedly not going to linger over the sterling musicians save to say they include the Lonesome River Band, the Gulley music clan (Steve, Brad, Debbie, Don), and a fine polished peck of others delivering the usual RR label level of top-flight pristine musicianship, infectious as the day is long. In more ways than one, this anthology stands besides works like Iced Earth's Gettysburg, a very impressive song cycle regarding that famous battle…except, of course, that Iced Earth is a heavy metal combo, and the musos in God Didn't Choose Sides are anything but (Gettysburg, by the way, was where John Burns went down fighting).
Works of this nature kinda make ya wonder, don't they? After an American Revolution, a damnably hellish record genociding Natives (and still grossly mistreating them to this very minute), a War of 1812, slavery, a Civil War, a VietNam, a completely unexcused Iraq War by a moron commander in chief, the succeeding president arrogating to order the murder of Americans and others with absolutely no legal overseerage whatsoever, U.S. drones killing civilians an ocean away, children in the mid-East being hideously white phosphoresced, the war of the banking and business rich against all others, and God only knows how many Congressmen and Congresswomen profiteering off the entire global mess in toto amid horrors I'm convicted we have yet to discover…well, it makes ya wonder when the hell we'll ever learn a damn thing, doesn't it? God Didn't Choose Sides, Vol. 1 won't answer that, it doesn't pretend to, no one can, but it raises dark questions while revealing the redemptive paradoxes of human nature…though I'd hate to cite at what social and moral cost that often far too late "redemption" comes.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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