(hmu 807549)

Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War

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Track List

Weeping, Sad and Lonely
Darling Nelly Gray
Hard Times Come Again No More
Sweet Evelina
Bright Sunny South
The Southern Soldier Boy / Rebel Raid
Tenting on the Old Camp Ground
Aura Lea
Listen to the Mocking Bird
Camp Chase
Brother Green
The Faded Coat of Blue
The Maiden in the Garden
The True Lover's Farewell
Home, Sweet Home / Polly Put the Kettle On
The Picture on the Wall
Abide with Me
Shall We Gather at the River
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Reviews of 1865

Classical Candor - SACD review - 1865

Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War. Anonymous 4, with Bruce Molsky. Harmonia Mundi HMU 807549.

The year 1865 marked the end of the American Civil War. It was also smack dab in the middle of the Romantic period in art, literature, and music. Romanticism flowed through American pop culture as well, so on this disc of Civil War-era songs, expect to hear music infused with highly expressive, sensitive, personal, ofttimes sentimental overtones.

Most of the songs themselves, eighteen of them, appeared during the Civil War, and many of them remained popular for a long while after, a few continuing in familiarity to this day. The group singing them is Anonymous 4, an American female a cappella quartet who often specialize in early music, medieval to Renaissance. This album, like their album of spirituals, is kind of a departure for them, but a wonderfully inspiring one. Joining the quartet (Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, Susan Hellauer, Ruth Cunningham, and Marsha Genensky) is two-time Grammy nominee Bruce Molsky on fiddle, banjo, guitar, and vocals. They make an impressive combination.

Now, before I utter another word, I have to issue a warning: Unless you have a heart of stone, you might find yourself shedding a tear or two. Usually, I'm immune to the hyperbole of PR agents to bias my opinion of things; in this case, Harmonia Mundi e-mailed me a sample song from the album, and it was all I needed to request the disc for review. The sample alone had me in tears. As I say, these are strongly moving tunes.

The vocals of Anonymous 4 are precise, articulate, and warmhearted; and the addition of the lower male voice complements their tonal and emotional qualities. They are an outstanding ensemble, gorgeous and heartfelt in their harmonies and presentation.

The opening song is "Weeping, Sad and Lonely," and it sets the mood, an a cappella number framed in five-part harmony. If it doesn't grab you from the outset, you'd have to be a rock.

"Darling Nelly Gray" adds Molsky's banjo to the arrangement, and it's effective in its simplicity. "Sweet Evelina" is, well, sweet, again sung a cappella, which after hearing it is the only way I could imagine anyone singing it. For changes of pace, "Bright Sunny South" and "Brother Green" feature Molsky singing alone, accompanying himself on banjo or fiddle, and "Camp Chase" with Molsky just on fiddle. Frankly, as nice as these are, I missed the ladies' voices.

On a few numbers we find solos, duets, and trios, and they work, too; however, I tended to prefer the quartet together with Molsky for their fuller body and sonority.

Then, there are the tunes we've come to know and love probably all our lives: "Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground," "Aura Lee" (think Elvis), "Listen to the Mockingbird" (think Three Stooges), "Home, Sweet Home," "Abide with Me," "Shall We Gather at the River," and the like. But you may not have heard them done quite like this, in, as the notes say, "something close to their original settings." Beautiful.

Anonymous 4 
Absolute favorites on the program? Well, I suppose so: the aforementioned "Weeping, Sad and Lonely," "Darling Nelly Gray," "Sweet Evelina," "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground," "Abide with Me," and "Shall We Gather at the River," plus "Faded Coat of Blue" and "The Picture on the Wall."

To say these are simply "sad" songs or mournful dirges would be a shame. Yes, you'll find them filled with sentiment and feeling, yet they're so extremely individual and affecting they transcend any facile descriptions. They are wonderful old songs, wonderfully performed.

This is another one that easily takes its place among my favorite albums of the year.

The disc comes fastened to the inside of a sturdy Digipak case, and an eighty-four-page booklet of notes, history, lyrics, and pictures completes the package. Just be careful how you handle the booklet; mine began coming apart at the binding shortly after I opened it.

Producer Robina G. Young and engineer and editor Brad Michel recorded the music in hybrid stereo/multichannel SACD at the Concert Hall, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey in June 2014.  I listened to the two-channel SACD layer. The sound is clear and ultra clean, the voices rich and full, a mild room resonance adding a welcome note of realistic ambience to the affair. The voices appear well grouped, too, with the ladies often slightly to the left and Molsky's vocals slightly to their side. Occasionally, Molsky appears in the middle of the female voices. In any case, it's all quite lifelike.

JJP - January 2015

Classical Candor: Classical Music Review by John J. Puccio


NPR "First Listen": Anonymous 4 - 1865

Four a cappella voices making divine music: This has been the heart of Anonymous 4's mission for nearly three decades. And as the group bids farewell this season, they're saying goodbye in a poignant way — with the release of an album that couldn't feel more timely. It commemorates the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction.

1865 — subtitled Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War — is the third release in what's become an Americana triptych from this quartet (less anonymously, Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek).This time around, they're joined by an excellent old-time musician, Bruce Molsky, who sings and plays fiddle, banjo and guitar. It's an organic collaboration, but the combination also evokes a specific dynamic: women tending the homefront, men on the battlefield. And as in their two previous releases of American songs, American Angels and Gloryland, the singing is gorgeous, with deep, sweet feeling. By the time "Abide with Me" and "Shall We Gather at the River" roll around at the close of this album, it's quite possible you'll be sniffling.

One hundred and 50 years on, there are still a few songs whose tunes and ideas remain familiar, including Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More," published in 1854, and Robert Lowry's 1864 "Shall We Gather at the River?" Another, the 1861 love song "Aura Lee," found new life in another context altogether, as the melody for one of Elvis Presley's biggest hits, "Love Me Tender." But some have largely receded from popular memory; if some of today's alt-folkies are looking for "new" material, there's plenty here.

It's nearly impossible to overstate how important singing was during the Civil War, not just for those waiting back home but to the fighting men as well. Songwriters raced to churn out thousands of new tunes and publishers created small booklets of lyrics, called "songsters," that soldiers and civilians could carry in their pockets. Some were abolitionist songs, some were Southern and in many, words were switched out to favor one side or the other.

But as Anonymous 4 mention in their liner notes, there are many wartime accounts of opposing soldiers, in their camps pitched across a battlefield or river from each other, trading songs back and forth in succession and even raising their voices together. In the present days of deep rifts and political enmities — hard times, to be sure — it's good to remember what has the power to bind us together.

-- Anastasia Tsioulcas, 1/4/2015


Metroland: The Capital's Alternative Newspaper:

Anonymous 4 with Bruce Molsky

by B.A. Nilsson on February 5, 2015 · 0 comments

The opening strains of the opening song—“Weeping, Sad, and Lonely”—are so ethereal, so gorgeous, that when we reach the lyric—“Oft in dreams I see thee lying/On the battle plain/Lonely, wounded, even dying/Calling, but in vain.”—it comes as a shock. Of course it’s a song about the horror of the ongoing war, but there are moments when the lovely intimacy of this performance suggests that it might merely be one couple sundered, not an entire country.

Anonymous 4 won a deservedly stellar reputation from their performances and recordings of medieval music, and achieved similar acclaim for their first two forays into American music: American Angels and Gloryland. The latest, 1865, concentrates on a handful of the many songs associated with or inspired by the Civil War.

That war inspired enough music to shift our national musical identity away from the Irish melodies that dominated a few decades earlier. The rise of minstrelsy in the mid-19th century contributed an overlapping strand. Stephen Foster contributed to both, and his “Hard Times Come Again No More” gets a five-part setting that brings out the rich beauty of this seemingly simple tune.

It makes the performance all the more pleasant to listen to, although I have to get used to the lack of any rough edges—and that’s only because I’ve had frequent exposure to much of this material as sung in my neighborhood (a bunch of us get together monthly to sing) and by the reenactors who populate the region.

As soon as Bruce Molsky’s banjo is heard—it happens on track two, “Darling Nelly Gray”—the fabric of the collection changes, and it’s just the right addition. Molsky joins the quartet in vocal harmony, adds fiddle at times, and even takes a vocal solo on “Bright Sunny South,” accompanying himself on banjo, summoning the spirit of Dock Boggs in the leanness of the performance.

The shifting textures also are magnificent. “Aura Lee” is a solo sung by Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek to Bruce Molsky’s guitar, with Molsky joining in on the refrains. “Sweet Evelina” alternates between two-part (verse) and four-part (refrain) harmony, all unaccompanied.

And the repertory is excellently chosen. “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” benefits from a straightforward, a cappella performance, letting the lyrics twist the knife. “Listen to the Mocking Bird” was the best known of Septimus Winner’s “Alice Hawthorne” songs (so credited because they sold better when thought to be the work of a female writer) and deserves better recognition than the farcical treatment it typically receives. Maybe this recording will help.

Other highlights are “The True Lover’s Farewell” sung by Marsha Genensky and Molsky, the almost-too-poignant-to-be-believed “Faded Coat of Blue,” a reminder that nothing puts a song across like passionate sincerity; Molsky’s voice and fiddle and “Brother Green,” and the most popular of all the Civil War songs, “Home, Sweet Home,” a perfect fit for the Anonymous 4 voices (Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek).

“Shall We Gather at the River?” asks the final song, and my suggestion is to gather wherever this ensemble take this program during their current tour. They’ve promised that they’re nearing the end of their performing career in this configuration, and are doing so at the height of their game.

1865 Program Notes

Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War

Joined by special guest Bruce Molsky, Anonymous 4 commemorates the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War with 1865.

1865 focuses on the personal experience of men, women, and children from the North and from the South, toward the end of the Civil War and in its immediate aftermath -- as told in songs originally written for the stage and for the parlor, and in songs and instrumental tunes from the hills and back roads of America.   

Many of the songs in 1865 were published between 1861 and 1865; others first appeared in print earlier, but were sung constantly during the terrible war years, perhaps in an effort to bring to mind the familiar and the good. Yet other songs and instrumental tunes are not datable; by the year 1865, they had already been passed down from generation to generation without the aid of the printed page.

Whatever their origins or history or musical style, these songs that were in the air in year 1865, the are the stylized, versified “stories” preferred by those many who lived through “This Cruel War.” They describe the cause and the call to fight; the agony of separation of lovers or of mothers and sons; the hopes, fears, and sacrifices of those who remained at home during the long wait for news of loved ones; the experiences of the soldiers themselves -- especially their desperate longing for home and family; homecoming for those who survived; grief for those who did not; and the hope for reconciliation amidst a troubled peace.


Letters, diaries, and memoirs attest to the importance of music during the Civil War, whether performed on the battlefield by homesick soldiers or at home by those who waited for them.

Responding to the demand for music (and in doing so, creating an even greater market for it), songwriters and composers jumped into action, producing several thousand songs during the war years -- about 700 released by Southern publishers, the rest by Northern publishers. Songs appeared in elegant sheet music with beautifully illustrated covers and in cheap single sheets referred to as song sheets or broadsides; and the lyrics of favorite songs both old and new were printed in pocket-sized collections called songsters, which were carried by both soldiers and civilians.


Despite the frenzy of musical composition and publication, and the speed with which certain new songs became huge hits, the single most popular song in both the North and the South during the Civil War actually pre-dated the war’s first shot by almost four decades, originating in the 1823 opera, Clari, or the Maid of Milan. Account after account tells of the singing of this song to ward off despair, or describes Northern and Southern soldiers camped on opposite sides of a river or a battlefield, singing or playing Union and Southern tunes in alternation, and finally joining together on… Home, Sweet Home.

Like Home, Sweet Home, many other songs on 1865 have nothing to do with side taking. Northerners preferred the love song Aura Lea; Southerners preferred the love song Sweet Evelina. Listen to the Mockingbird became The Mockingbird Quickstep, played by military and civilian brass bands everywhere during the war years.

But the lyrics of some of our songs (and many other Civil War songs as well), did promote either the Northern or the Southern cause. Even so, some of the best loved of them were sung with equal fervor in the North and the South. The Northern song Weeping, Sad and Lonely, or, When This Cruel War is Over was printed again and again by both Northern and Southern publishers with certain changes in text to indicate Union or Confederate allegiance. Despite the fact that the extreme sadness of its theme caused such bad morale that generals tried to forbid their troops from singing it, sales of Weeping, Sad and Lonely approached nearly a million copies, and songwriters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line churned out reply songs, parodies, and imitations.

The abolitionist song Darling Nelly Gray appeared in many 1860s songsters published in the South as well as in those published in the North. Tenting on the Old Camp Ground, written by a Northerner as a plea for peace as the fighting and the dying dragged on, was included in a collection of Southern war songs after the Civil War had ended. The Faded Coat of Blue, or, the Nameless Grave, whose title refers to the uniform of the Union soldier, was collected as a folksong in Mississippi decades after its publication in the last year of the Civil War. Brother Green, a “dying soldier” song set to the tune of the most popular of all Anglo-American ballads, Barbara Allen, was later collected in both Southern and Northern states: in the Southern version, the “Northern” foe has laid him low; in the Northern version, he has been mortally wounded by the “Southern” foe.


Although a few of the songs in 1865 fell into obscurity after the end of the Civil War, many others have lived on and become part of the American treasury of song. Certain songs have been sung and played in a surprising variety of settings. We particularly love the facts that Aura Lea is the source of the melody for the Elvis Presley hit Love Me Tender, and (despite its extremely sad lyrics) Listen to the Mockingbird became a comic song, often featuring virtuosic whistling solos – and used as part of the theme song in the opening credits of the short films of The Three Stooges! Shall We Gather at the River has not only enjoyed a long and active life here in the US, but made its way to the British Isles and has flourished there, as well.


Some of our songs were originally written for solo voice with piano or guitar accompaniment; others were originally set with solo voice verses and four-part choruses; yet others were not printed or written down: they were sung tune alone, played on the fiddle or on other instruments that came to hand. We have decided to put our own stamp on each of them:

We’ve got five-part harmonies on Weeping, Sad and Lonely, the Stephen Foster gem Hard Times, Come Again No More, and Shall We Gather at the River; Bruce accompanying himself on Civil War-era fretless banjo on Bright Sunny South, and his inimitable fiddle and banjo playing on instrumental tunes Rebel Raid, Camp Chase, and Polly Put the Kettle On; Darling Nelly Gray, Listen to the Mocking Bird, and Home, Sweet Home in something close to their original settings accompanied by the fretted banjo; the Southern favorite Sweet Evelina sung girl group style; Aura Lea in an arrangement for two voices and guitar; an homage to the Carter Family on The Faded Coat of Blue; the high lonesome sound on the folk song The True Lover’s Farewell; and the four-part a cappella singing of Anonymous 4 on the anti-war song Tenting on the Old Camp Ground and the hymn Abide with Me.

Liner notes by Marsha Genensky


iTunes download bonus track:

The Land of Beulah (words by Jefferson Hascall; music by the New Jersey-based composer William Batchelder Bradbury) first appeared in 1862 in a little songbook called Bradbury’s Golden Shower of S.S. Melodies. By the late 1860s, this gospel song had traveled South, and had been renamed Angel Band. Popular in both the North and the South in the 19th century, Angel Band later became a standard in Old-time and bluegrass circles, and has been performed and recorded by many artists, including the Stanley Brothers (their famous rendition featured on the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and Anonymous 4 (American Angels). Here is Bradbury’s setting of The Land of Beulah from 1862, in an arrangement for Anonymous 4 with Bruce Molsky on guitar and vocals.

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