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Various Artists

Song of America – 2007 (31 Tigers)

Reviewed by Robert Loy

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CDs by Various Artists

"Various Artists" is right. When you've got everybody from BR-549 to Suzy Bogguss to the Blind Boys of Alabama on one record, you've got yourself a melting pot. This album, originally envisioned by former Attorney General Janet Reno and brought to fruition by "New Punk Blues" artist (and Reno's niece's husband) Ed Pettersen, attempts to present the history of the United States of America in only 50 songs.

Starting from before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 with "Lakota Dream Song" and going all the way through the Wrights's interpretation of Alan Jackson's 2001 "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?," this ambitious project leaves the listener with - among other things - a better understanding of Santayana's quote "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Think modern minority groups's appropriation of pejorative terms is something new? Take another listen to "Yankee Doodle" and know that "doodle" was a slang term for "fool," and that this song originally was sung by Redcoats to mock the colonial militia, who adopted it and turned it into an anthem.

Check out Janis Ian's devastating "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye" about a legless vet whose "dancing days" are over and remind yourself that this was not written about our modern soldiers fighting in Iraq, but about the Civil War.

Notice the jarring contrast between "Happy Days Are Here Again" and the song that immediately follows it: "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" and know that it felt just as jarring in 1932 for those Americans who thought the Roaring 20's would last forever.

Ultimately this is a mixed bag. Some of it doesn't work - Julie Lee does her best, but there's no way to make "Once More Our God Vouchsafe To Shine" palatable for modern audiences. Some of it makes you think about things you've lived with forever, but never actually thought about (The Mavericks's "Dixie's Land" with Thad Cockrell). Some of it - most blatantly the Del McCoury Band's "The Times, They Are A'Changin'" but just about every song on this album - makes you realize the truth of that old saying "The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same."

A mixed bag. Much like America itself.