Another Civil War recording? Well, yes. The Civil War continues gripping the imagination of listeners and artists and, in the case of Sam Passamano II, record executives alike. Passamano’s project is a bit different from the rest. Except for the hymn “There Is A Fountain,” he has avoided having his gathered artists remake Civil War-era tunes and avoided the fictional and first-person “ballads” found on most. Instead, there are 12 true events involving, as the notes say, “lost loved ones, acts of kindness, selflessness, faith, family values and brotherhood,” 12 events that have been transformed by several contemporary songwriters (including, predominantly, Mark Brinkman, Paula Breedlove, and Mike Evans) into modern historical ballads that are both compelling and moving.
We hear of a doctor searching for the name of an unknown soldier by spreading the word in newspapers and asking if readers recognize “A Picture Of Three Children” found in the soldier’s hand. We hear in “Carrie’s Graveyard Book” of a woman who keeps a list of all the soldiers who die in the hospital located on her commandeered plantation. Some of the stories, such as “The Legend Of Jennie Wade” and “Christmas In Savannah,” are fairly well-known. Others, such as the title tune or the ex-slave/underground railroad operative “The River Man,” are less so.
While the majority of the tunes here are good, including the uptempo and airy tale of a young girl in a guerilla unit who earns the name “Rebel Hart” and the traditional and buoyant “Old John Burns,” a few are stuck with rather static melodies, using modal and minor effects to simulate old mountain balladry. The stories and the performances, however, never flag, and therein lies the heart and punch of this recording.
Among the lead singers are Steve Gulley, Dale Ann Bradley, Russell Moore, Carrie Hassler, Ronnie Bowman, Bradley Walker, Rickey Wasson, Tim Stafford, and the Lonesome River Band. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 750, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121, www.ruralrhythm.com.)BW