In these times of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, Rural Rhythm Records continues its series of releases honoring the legacy of the conflict. Next up, banjoist Mike Scott and a 14-song collection of 13 tunes popular from that era, a collection that begins with an almost predictable pennywhistle and accordion intro to “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” That’s to set the stage, of course, because the song quickly segues into a straight, traditional bluegrass reading taken at the upper end of the medium tempo range. That tempo recurs often throughout the recording and, in its sameness, is the one minor drawback to the project.
Anyone familiar with bluegrass will know the songs included here and know them well: “Soldier’s Joy,” “Battle Hymn Of The Republic,” “Home Sweet Home,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Camptown Races,” and several others that are part of our collective memory. The one exception might be the slow, closing track, “The Battlefield,” a mournful and fitting gospel tune that doesn’t seem to be widely played. It must also be mentioned that Scott has included “Ashokan Farewell” and arranged it with banjo out front, saving the fiddle for the last chorus. Obviously that song wasn’t from the Civil War, but given its association with Ken Burns’ PBS series The Civil War, it almost seems that it was.
Joining Scott in equal partnership on this enjoyable recording are guitarists Tim Stafford and Bryan Sutton, mandolinists Adam Steffey and Mike Compton, resonator guitarist Rob Ickes, fiddler Aubrey Haynie, and bassist Ben Isaacs. Largely, they adhere to the melodies of the songs, embellishing them here and there with rhythmic and melodic twists. Scott’s arrangements are fairly straightforward and make little or no attempt to recreate the period. That’s fine. To take these old tunes out on a musical limb would have defeated Scott’s aim of honoring the legacy and value of these storied tunes. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 750, Mt. Juliet TN, 37121, www.ruralrhythm.com.)BW