At first glance a war is one giant campaign. People will shake their heads and speak of either its pointlessness or its glory. But look deeper, look closer and the war reveals itself to be a series of battles, some ill-advised and some essential. Any battle can help or hinder the movement of an army and you don’t know the impact of the battle until you look back on it in the context of the war as a whole. You can of course lose a battle and still win the war, and vice versa. That’s what listening to this album is like. The army in question here is one without music and its call to arms comes from Granville Automatic, an American country music duo consisting of Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins. The album demands several listens because it’s when you look back on its contents that you appreciate the glorious music it contains. Nine songs that will worm their way into your head and your heart.
Granville Automatic took it upon themselves to write about the battles and the people involved in the American Civil War, people like Grancer Harrison who insisted he be buried in his dancing shoes along with his fiddle ‘in the Alabama clay so red’. I picked up that piece of trivia from a Youtube video, but the fact I’m writing this far away from America and its history really doesn’t matter because when it all boils down to it, every army and every warring nation faces the same trials, tribulations, heartaches and hopes. ‘Goodnight boys of Kentucky, I know where we’ll meet’ harmonise the singers on ‘Goodnight House’. I don’t know enough about the material to know if there’s a particular fighting unit from Kentucky being sung about, or if this is merely a global prayer to those who fought and are soon to die on a nameless field of battle. Yet these sentiments are not the sole property of America. As Ataturk said to the mothers of those killed in Gallipoli, ‘you, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away the tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace’. Perhaps Grancer Harrison finds his own equivalent in the British officer wounded at the Elands River siege in South Africa at the turn of the last century who upon rousing himself after life-saving surgery demanded that his men dig up the remains of his severed leg to recover the five pounds he had in his pocket. The point I make is that you don’t need to know a jot of history to engage with this material.
‘Salem Church’ is another universal lament, this time about those separated from lovers, siblings, children and friends by the call to war. Nowhere on this album is there a hint of regret, sure we pray every night to find our way back home and we are warned to ‘count your blessings while they stay’ but there is nothing but pride directed to those who will never make it home. Every song is beautifully crafted and beautifully realised – and like battles in a war you need to get to know the individual songs which form the whole of this wonderful album.