Elektra/Nonesuch scored one of the biggest successes of the classical specialty label's history with this soundtrack to the Ken Burns public television series The Civil War. More a multi-artist compilation than an actual "soundtrack" in the formal sense, the album is filled with low-key highlights from the series -- Jay Ungar's "Ashokan Farewell" is the most familiar of the material that was new to most listeners, but it was surrounded by fare such as "Battle Cry of Freedom," "Bonnie Blue Flag," "Dixie," "Hail Columbia," and "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which will certainly be known, at least by memory, to anyone who attended school in the United States before 1967 or so. There's also some representation of spirituals, most notably "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder." There are some full-band performances here ("Yankee Doodle," "Parade") and a few tunes featured in more than one incarnation (most notably "Marching Through Georgia"), but the overall thrust of this soundtrack is toward the small-scale and intimate in terms of sound and arrangements -- it's a far cry from the mostly upbeat Civil War song compilations that appeared in the late '50s and the start of the 1960s, in the run up to the war's centenary. Less is more seems to have been the operating theory behind the music, which makes it more enduring as a listening experience -- subtlety being a hallmark of the music -- and a strong tug on the conscience and the intellect. And the final track, "Ashokan Farewell/Sullivan Ballou Letter," the latter read by Paul Roebling, can bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened listener.
Share this page