Tuesday, July 12, 2011

CD Review: "Stonewall Country"

I’m not a Confederate sympathizer (slavery and Jim Crow leave me juuuust a little cold) but the latest CD from Robin & Linda Williams almost knocked my socks off and turned my dark blue Union perspective to a slightly lighter shade of grey. Red House Records has just released "Stonewall Country," a CD of original songs composed and performed by this stunningly talented musical couple (along with “Their Fine Group”) from a musical they composed regarding the life of Confederate hero Stonewall Jackson.

The Civil War began 150 years ago this past April but this collection brings the conflict and its Southern perspective up close, breathing musical life into daguerreotype photographs of Stonewall Jackson, his associates and his times. One can almost hear the Confederate South in every note.

For instance, the melody created for “Exile,” a poem by Jackson’s sister-in-law and featured here as a perfect combination of melody and lyric, sounds like it came straight out of the 19th century. The fiddle part running throughout the entire track of “Hardtack’s All We Eat,” a humorous song about the hardships of Confederate camp life, brings to mind the sounds of an Appalachian fiddle contest.

The Williams’ are not only stunning tunesmiths and performers but their lyrics are often extremely clever. In the above-mentioned “Hardtack,” a repeated line is “Hardtack’s all we eat/Captain won’t you bring some files to sharpen up our teeth.” The song “Here Comes Jeb,” manages to encompass the character of one man – flamboyant Confederate general Jeb Stuart – in this single repeated line: “Here comes Jeb, here comes the show.”

The simple lyrics to the extremely moving “The War’s Gone Bad on Me” are barely accompanied but they don’t need to be; alone, they starkly and powerfully illustrate the soul of a man deathly tired of war and devoid of hope because he has finally deserted.

The Williams’ didn’t write the lyrics to the cacophonous “Battling Anthems,” which sets inflammatory slogans of the times to “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie” respectively, but this song is an extremely effective illustration of the burgeoning regional hatred that ruled out any peaceful settlement of the country’s issues.

There are a few tracks that I didn’t particularly like, such as “Burying Day” (in my opinion a failed attempt of white musicians to sound black) and “Proud Valley Boys” and “Seven Day Freak-Out,” both of which I found somewhat dull, but these are minor blips in an otherwise brilliant collection of songs. Taken as a whole, “Stonewall Country” is a winning and successful attempt to illustrate the life and times of Stonewall Jackson through music.

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