Review: God Didn’t Choose Sides, Vol I

God Didn’t Choose Sides Vol 1 is the first of a new series that touches on bluegrass, country, and roots music by writers such as Paula Breedlove, Mark Brinkman, Brad Davis, Ray Edwards, Mike Evans, Terry Foust, Steve Gulley and Tim Strafford, and performed by an all-star line-up including Marty Raybon, Russell Moore, Ronnie Bowman, The Lonesome River Band, Dale Ann Bradley, Steve Gulley, Carrie Hassler, Bradley Walker, Tim Stafford, and others. The songs are all new, but are rooted so deeply into American history that it’s easy to forget that they’re not songs from the Civil War period, rather they are about that period.

The subtitle of this CD is “Civil War True Stories about Real People,” and therein lies the difference from the more familiar bluegrass songs about the Civil War. Many of those songs tend toward the sentimental and emotional side, and while this album can hit notes of both the fact that the songs are based on real people and events makes them all the more touching. It’s been said many times that bluegrass is the happiest sounding music about the saddest subjects and there is much here than can bring a tear to your eye.

“The Legend of Jennie Wade”

If you’re leery of delving into an entire album with songs on the same theme, the constantly changing lineup of the artists and the variety of the songs not only keeps things fresh, it gives you a sense of anticipation for the next song that’s quite like reaching the next chapter in a very good book – you can’t wait to see where the story goes. The liner notes are also a very important part of this album, since they provide a brief description of the background for each song, sometimes crucial information that can’t be completely captured just by lyrics.

The album opens with the haunting “Almost Home” sung by Steve Gulley about a Tennessee volunteer going off to war with the Confederates, and fighting his way back home a thousand miles and three years later only to die in his own home after a battle. Russell Moore follows with the lilting “A Picture Of Three Children,” of a Union casualty at Gettysburg eventually identified by the the picture of his children clutched in his hand.

The album delves into somewhat more familiar history with “The Legend of Jenny Wade,” for anyone who has probed the stories of Gettysburg has at least come across her name, if not the whole story of her death from a stray bullet when battlefields happen to be the same area where people live.

“Christmas in Savannah” is gently bought in by Dale Ann Bradley, and while I wouldn’t necessarily refer to it as “cheerful” it does go from the gloom of the city falling to Sherman’s troops to Union troops from Michigan playing Santa with Christmas provisions.

The stories continue, from Union and Confederate prison camps, graveyards, and battlefields, each story a song, and each song a story well worth a listen. The album closes with “God Didn’t Chose Sides” segueing into the gospel song “There Is A Fountain,” to tell the story of an all too brief quiet between battles when both sides came together at the river for the baptism of a Confederate soldier.

The album is winning much acclaim from the critics and is well worth not only listening to but studying. Since they only call this Volume 1 and don’t divulge the long term plans I really look forward to seeing this series play out.

Rural Rhythm Records

Mark Hudson

Mark Hudson is a long time local HVBA member and music lover who, unfortunately, had to move away. He misses the local scene but will look for you at Greyfox!

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