Greg’s Grab Bag – Blue Highway and Civil War Song Releases
The latest album from respected acoustic unit Blue Highway is a nice collection of contemporary bluegrass showcasing the band members’ songwriting skills. Scheduled for release on August 23 by Rounder Records, Sounds Of Home finds the talented quartet (Jason Burleson, Rob Ickes, Shawn Lane, Tim Stafford and Wayne Taylor) telling stories, being spiritual and getting topical.
Standout tracks include “Only Seventeen,” Taylor’s meditation on the dangers of life as a miner and Stafford’s wistful “Bluebird Days.” Stafford also penned the set-closing “Drinking From A Deeper Well,” an introspective and tender statement about the importance of turning away from modern society’s fast-paced life and returning to things that really matter.
“Heather And Billy,” an inspirational track co-written by Stafford and Steve Gulley paying tribute to an incredible foster family, is the album’s emotional center and the Lane-penned title track has some of the most memorable harmony vocals on the set.
Blue Highway is on the road touring in-advance of the new album release date and was a featured act at the 63rd semi-annual Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The band joined other groups including The Seldom Scene, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, J.D. Crowe & The New South with Tony Rice and Bobby Hicks, Mountain Heart, The Steeldrivers, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver on the roster of this always crowd-pleasing event.
Gettysburg Director’s Cut Blu-ray and Gods And Generals Extended Director’s Cut Blu-ray
Speaking of Gettysburg, Warner Home Video is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start of America’s Civil War, a conflict that claimed more than 620,000 soldiers’ lives in the nearly 4-year period from April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1965, with two new Blu-ray releases. Director Ronald F. Maxwell’s two sweeping epics – Gettysburg and Gods And Generals – get special treatment on these expanded sets that include extra scenes, deluxe packaging and a wealth of bonus features.
Originally released theatrically in 1993, Gettysburg is monumental in both length and scope. Not only does the film dramatize the infamous 1863 battle that resulted in about 50,000 combined casualties over a three-day period and turned the tide of the war in the Union’s favor, but it also succeeds in condensing many major battle-related stories down to a compelling four-hour narrative.
Based on Michael Shaara’s historical novel The Killer Angels, the film features a stellar cast including Martin Sheen as Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Jeff Daniels as Union Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, Tom Berenger as Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Stephen Lang as Confederate Major General George Pickett and Sam Elliott as Union Brigadier General John Buford.
Joining this amazing collection of acting talent were thousands of Civil War reenactors that made the action as authentic as possible. These volunteers, the real stars of the film, worked tirelessly to reproduce some of the battles key fights with such realism that it still holds up against newer, CGI-aided films. All of the film’s action looks better than ever on this latest home video edition thanks to the superiority of Blu-ray technology. The excellent 1.78.1 widescreen AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer is a definite improvement over past DVD releases.
Additionally, there is a bonus DVD with extra features, all of which appeared on previous DVD editions, including commentary, behind the scenes footage and an excellent vintage documentary film, The Battle Of Gettysburg. This film, originally released in 1955, is narrated by Leslie Nielsen and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards. Rounding out the package is a 48-page booklet with lots of historical and production information.
Although it came out in theaters in 2003, a decade after Gettysburg, Ronald F. Maxwell’s other Civil War epic Gods And Generals focuses on the life of the legendary Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and covers the early days of the Civil War. The film features key battles like First Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the conflict at which “Stonewall” Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire.
Even though critics did not receive this film as well as its predecessor, it is nonetheless an intriguing and worthwhile snapshot of the American Civil War made even more interesting in this new expanded edition. The Gods And Generals Extended Director’s Cut Bu-ray includes an entire hour of new footage which now makes the film a whopping 280-minute long epic. This new version was also re-cut to adjust the storyline a bit.
As with Gettysburg, this new set features great packaging, an informative booklet and a ton of bonus features previously available on past DVD releases. Additionally, the video for Bob Dylan’s “Cross The Green Mountain” is a real treat for music lovers.
Along with the packaging and bonus features, the film’s audio stands out as a real highlight. The thunder of war envelopes you and places you directly on the battlefield throughout the film and is much more impressive than the mix on the Gettysburg release.
Both of these films and their new Blu-ray releases are worth checking out and a great way to get your Civil War fix.
A Treasury Of Civil War Songs Sung By Tom Glazer and Civil War Naval Songs
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is also commemorating this historic anniversary with two releases – a newly recorded collection of Civil War naval songs and a reissued Civil War-themed folk album, both of which will be of interest for music fans and history buffs.
Folk singer and songwriter Tom Glazer may be best known as the author of the 1963 novelty hit “On Top Of Spaghetti,” a parody of “On Top Of Old Smoky,” but he was a much more than a children’s music performer – a fact made evident by his collection of Civil War-era music. Originally released in 1973 on CMS Records, A Treasury Of Civil War Songs Sung By Tom Glazer features straight renditions of popular songs from Civil War times.
The album’s minimal arrangements, often just vocals with acoustic guitar accompaniment, come across as very authentic. This feeling is reinforced by Glazer’s deep and distinctive vocal delivery that jumps from light and playful (“Upidee,” “Goober Peas” and “Wait For The Wagon”) to somber and serious (“The Conquered Banner” and “The President’s Grave”) over the course of this 25-song collection.
Some of the songs on this set have become classic American folk standards, but most have nearly been lost to time. From a historical perspective, it is particularly interesting to hear songs like “John Brown’s Body,” “Battle Hymn Of The Republic,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Dixie” and even “The Yellow Rose Of Texas” paired with lesser-known contemporary compositions.
The second new Civil War release from Smithsonian Folkways is also the first album ever devoted entirely to sailor songs and naval tunes of the period. Civil War Naval Songs collects 13 ballads from a broad range of sources to open a window on the lives of sailors, a group often overlooked in larger Civil War discussions.
David Coffin, Jeff Davis and Dan Milner are the primary vocalists for this project and their passion for this historical music is evident. As with the previous release, this collection uses minimal musical accompaniment to bring these tales to life. The instruments used are all authentic to this period including concertina, English concertina, piano, banjo, fiddle, clarinet and dulcimer.
The thing that sets this collection apart is the subject matter of the songs. Glazer’s collection is more topical while this album contains more storytelling balladry. Tales of bravery, blockade-running, death, love left behind and epic naval confrontations make this an exciting listen from beginning to end. Highlights include the anticipatory “The Jamestown Homeward Bound,” the traditional “A Yankee Man-of-War” and the humorous, theatrical and taunting “The Monitor & Merrimac.”
As with all Smithsonian Folkways collections, extensive liner notes, historical photos and related essays support and enhance the great music on both discs nicely.
Until next time, enjoy the music and movies!