New York's Tompkins Square imprint continuous its restless, even relentless journey to document the hidden, ignored, and often altogether forgotten American music with the release of Bloody War: Songs 1924-1939. The era is important because it was a period when songs from the Civil War were still being performed and recorded, as well as songs of the Spanish-American War, and those from the First World War were in still recent memory. There are familiar names here, to be sure: Fiddlin' John Carson, Buell Kazee, Frank Hutchison, Ernest V. Stoneman, Tom Darby & Jimmie Tarlton, and more. But there are others too -- the Dixon Brothers, Jimmy Yates' Boll Weevils, Coley Jones, Earl Johnson & His Clodhoppers, and William & Versey Smith among others. The songs offer a historical portrait of war and shared history in the American consciousness in the early 20th century. The listener might be surprised, no matter how seemingly benign many of these narrative tunes are, they all seem to express that war is literally hell, and the national sense of duty inherent in engaging in the unpleasant business of it to serve a greater good. The music ranges from early country sounds to blues, with almost everything in between. Zeke Morris's "Just as the Sun Goes Down," composed in 1898, offers a chilling view of the battlefield after the fighting ends. "The Rainbow Division" by Darby & Tarlton is set to the tune of "Red River Valley"; it's named for a divison in the National Guard and Army who fought in the First World War. Kazee's "The Faded Coat of Blue" is the chilling first recording of a song written in 1868 -- though many might recognize it from the Carter Family's later version. The set closes with the 1927 blues "Everybody Help the Boys Come Home," by William & Versey Smith. A WWI themed-tune, it underscores the "duty" of paying additional taxes to fund war efforts. It's an interesting contrast to the views of politicians contemporary to the comilation's release who wished to cut taxes while escalating military spending and conflicts. These 15 songs are indispensible for fans of American folk music, and for those contemplating what war itself means in the 21st century. Clearly, its meaning now, as demonstrated here, has been separated from the view of history. The set comes with a booklet containing complete song annotations, copious liner notes, and features painstakingly beautiful sound considering the source material. ~ Thom Jurek
Down Beat (p.59) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[T]his old-time music collection takes listeners near the front lines with folk, country, blues and pop 78s waxed in commemoration or burlesque of the Civil War, the Spanish-American WAr and the First World War."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.98) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Many tracks have never appeared on commercial release since they were recorded in the 20s and 30s, and they reflect both human loss and the black humour of the common soldier."
Uncut (magazine) (p.106) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[A] splendid overview of 1920s and 30s folk, blues and country styles, from crude street singers William and Versey Smith to Fiddlin' John Carson's dazzling Southern melody."
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