Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Civil War [Elektra/Nonesuch, 1990]
A panorama of American melody circa 1865, when all manner of minstrels and semiclassically trained composers were melding hymns and folk airs into an American popular style. Modest execution guards against dated fussiness, forced projection, and parlor gentility--on its own terms it's a quiet classic. But its elegiac reflectiveness calls out for gruesome pictures that aren't there--because it conceives music as a respite from war, never as a weapon, it's more sentimental than the music deserves. Did you know that North Carolina's Salem Brass Band used to play in the midst of battle to spur the boys on, or that at a post-Appomattox concert a Southern major told his Yankee hosts, "Gentlemen, if we had had your songs, we'd have licked you out of your boots"? Not from this you didn't. A-