Much like Ken Burns' famed documentary on the Civil War, "Divided and United" delivers a part of American history that would appeal to anyone, not just the history buffs. In this case, the music of the Civil War is brought to life, with the help of a collection of Nashville and Americana all-stars.
A few songs, such as Dixie (by Karen Elson with The Secret Sisters) and Beautiful Dreamer (one of Cowboy Jack Clement's last performances), may be known to casual music fans. But the bulk of the tunes have languished in relative obscurity for more than a century.
For some bands, it's their stock in trade, and they feel right at home with these ancient tunes. Old Crow Medicine Show, which has recorded contemporary Civil War songs, takes a song like Marching Through Georgia and make it sound like an OCMS original. The Carolina Chocolate Drops do the same with Day of Liberty.
A few songs get contemporized. Shovels & Rope turns The Fall of Charleston into a garage rock number, and A.A. Bondy's take on Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier is moody and haunting.
The other artists range from legends like Loretta Lynn and Ralph Stanley to modern-era country music custodians like Vince Gill and Jamey Johnson, along with a fair helping of left-of-center singers like John Doe and A.A. Bondy. Almost without fail, the singers strike the right tone with each song, whether it be somber, joyful or reverential. Any new song from Lynn is worthy of headlines, and her take on Take Your Gun and Go, John is a stellar album opener. Ashley Monroe, in her collaboration with fiddler Aubrey Haynie on "Pretty Saro, demonstrates that she is as good at interpreting songs as she is at writing them.
At 32 songs, the whole collection is so strong. "Divided and United" has a broader appeal that stretches far beyond Civil War historians and re-enactors.