Review: Tom Glazer – A Treasury of Civil War Songs (Smithsonian Folkways, 1973/2011)
In remembrance of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, Smithsonian Folkways has reissued Tom Glazer’s 1973 collection of wartime songs. Many of these compositions are so deeply ingrained into the American musical lexicon that listeners have all but stopped thinking about their origins. So while it’s unsurprising that “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie” were each canonized amid the War Between the States, it’s surprising to find that “The Yellow Rose of Texas” (whose period lyrics will make twenty-first century sensibilities wince) and “Goober Peas” were also created amid the songwriting boom of the nineteenth century. The rise of song publishing was fueled not only by a growing American appetite for music making, but the development of war reporting in all manner of written form. Topical songwriting became a way of recording events, defining sides and rallying support. The folk tradition (and loosely-formed nineteenth-century sense of intellectual property) is heard in the sharing of melodies between “John Brown’s Body” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” as well as “Maryland, My Maryland” borrowing its tune from “O Tannenbaum.” Glazer and a backing chorus sing mostly to a solo guitar, reflecting an era when music lovers were more likely to engage in making music than listen to it. The reissue’s booklet includes period photos of soldiers, musicians and most interestingly, soldier musicians, as well as extensive historical and song notes from University of Maryland musicologist Patrick Warfield.