Various Artists Divided and United: The Songs of the Civil War

Various Artists Divided and United: The Songs of the Civil War
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This is the record that should have been made for Ken Burns' Civil War series, since it includes more than just tub-thumpers like "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The collection is the brainchild of movie music supervisor Randall Poster, whose work includes Velvet Goldmine and Boardwalk Empire.

This Grammy-bait two-disc set oozes bluegrass and mountain chops, discovering forgotten gems and bringing in heavy hitters of the past and present like Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack, Steve Earle, Dolly Parton, Taj Mahal and T Bone Burnett to perform. Surprisingly, high and lonesome vocals get mixed with large band arrangements oddly reminiscent of what Peter Gabriel might sound like playing with the Chieftains.

History buffs will enjoy the tales of daring and death, while others may note the issues of race and segregation that still echo in the South today. It's not an easy collection, and sometimes feels like an Alan Lomax fireside recording introducing the latest from Nashville's Music Row. It's hard not to appreciate the monsters of talent here, and the impeccable production. (ATO)