Song of America
31 Tigers Records
By James Calemine
This 50-song, 3 CD collection tells the story of America through songs from the year 1492 through modern times. Song of America contains a diverse line-up of artists willing to sing in the name of America. Some of the artists include The Blind Boys of Alabama, John Mellencamp, The Black Crowes, BR5-49, Fisk Jubilee Singers, Jim Lauderdale, Devendra Banhart, The Del McCoury Band, Martha Wainwright, Bettye Lavette and many others.
"Lakota Dream Song", a Native American chant by Earl Bullhead opens this collection. Song of America stands as a great educational tool since music remains America's greatest gift to the world. The Blind Boys of Alabama rendering "Let Us Break Bread Together" sounds like sitting in church on Sunday morning. Each CD is categorized as Red (1492-1860), White (1861-1945) and Blue (1946-Present) symbolizing songs from a particular era in the country's history.
Songs such as "God Save The King", "The Liberty Song", "Yankee Doodle", "Jefferson & Liberty", "Hail Columbia", "Star Spangled Banner", "Trail of Tears", "Dixie's Land", "John Brown's Body", "Battle Hymn of the Republic", "The Farmer Is the Man", "Stars & Stripes Forever", "Lift Every Voice and Song", "Deportee", "The Great Atomic Power", "The Times They Are A Changin'", "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud", "Ohio", "What's Goin' On", "Youngstown", "Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning", "This Land Is Your Land" as well as the others are all recorded in a respectful and timeless manner with an earthy, folk-ish quality.
Elizabeth Foster's voice sounds ethereal on "Young Ladies In Town". Donnie Herron (now in Bob Dylan's band) leads his old Nashville group BR5-49 through a version of "Sweet Betsy From Pike" that sounds as if sung by soldiers from the Civil War around an evening campfire. These songs represent significant events and eras in American history, such as pilgrims landing at the Rock, The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.
Marah's version of "John Brown's Body" emerges as a foot-stomping celebration. Joanna Smith's cover of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is simply beautiful. Otis Gibbs' recording of "The Farmers Is the Man" sounds timeless...Americans should direct attention to those who feed their families.
Joni Harms' voice on "Home On the Range" could move a 7-year old girl or a 70-year old man with her graceful voice. Jake Shimabukuro's ukelele instrumental version of "Stars & Stripes Forever" sounds amazing. Jen Chapin's rendition of "Over There" sounds like it could've been recorded in 1840, 1940 or 2040...
Jim Lauderdale sings "Seven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat" behind an mountain-tinged banjo proves this song belongs in this indelible collection. Chris & Rich Robinson (The Black Crowes) sing with their father Stan on the Woody Guthrie tune "Reuben James". Devendra Banhart sings and picks an unforgettable version of "Little Boxes". Del McCoury's cover of the Bob Dylan classic "The Times They Are A Changin'" pays for this collection alone.
Blues goddess Bettye LaVette sings a soulful rendition of "Streets of Philadelphia". John Mellencamp's solo cut "This Land Is Your Land" closes this 3-CD set in a way that would've made Woody Guthrie proud.
Producer, songwriter and musician Ed Petterson wrote in the handsome booklet about this project: "It took over nine years from start to finish for me to complete this project since the time the former Attorney General (Janet Reno) suggested it to me. It almost collapsed twice, I almost gave up three times and twice record labels made offers to put it out and then vanished. But it was worth every second and every single ounce of blood, sweat and tears. Just like this country."
Every music fan should own Song of America.