Rhonda and Sparky Rucker / Sparky Rucker

The Blue & Gray in Black & White

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Most of the U.S.' major wars gave us a wealth of great songs. While "My Buddy" and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" are among the gems associated with World War I, and the Second World War gave us such hits as "Apple Blossom Time" and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," the Vietnam War inspired more than its share of angry protest songs. A major difference between those 20th century wars and the American Civil War of the 19th Century is the fact that during the latter, recording technology hadn't yet been invented. International publishing companies and intellectual property laws were also things of the future. So, when Rhonda & Sparky Rucker decided to record an album of Civil War songs in 1992, all of the material they had to choose from was in the public domain. The songs of the Civil War ranged from pro-Union and abolitionist songs of the North to southern Confederate songs, and on The Blue and Gray in Black and White, the artists embrace a variety of material from that period. Some of the songs are religious (including the black slave song "Goodbye"), and some are political ("O, I'm a Good Old Rebel" and "The Battle Cry of Freedom,"). The Ruckers' interest in the songs is musical rather than political -- so when you hear a pro-Union song next to a pro-Confederate song, you're getting an album that is musically consistent even though it wasn't meant to be lyrically consistent. In fact, if a label wanted a collection of Vietnam War-era songs to be as diverse as this album, it would have to include Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee" (which praised Muskogee, OK residents for not burning their draft cards) alongside the anti-war protests of Joan Baez, Gil Scott-Heron, and Bob Dylan. Fascinating from start to finish, The Blue and Gray in Black and White is arguably the Ruckers' most essential CD.

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