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COMPOSERS: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War
PERFORMER: Anonymous 4; Bruce Molsky (vocals, violin, guitar, banjo)


For followers of the a cappella vocal quartet  Anonymous 4, this is a sad moment: after 30 years of music-making, this is the American group’s last new touring programme before disbanding at the end of the 2015-16 season. It’s a superbly put together sequence. One hundred-and-fifty years ago the American Civil War ended, and the 18 songs performed here chart the experiences of soldiers North and South, and those who worried about them, during the anxious years of that brutal conflict.

Some of the tunes are very familiar, but gain an extra poignancy in this album’s programme by the cumulative impact of juxtaposition, and the dignified humility of Anonymous 4’s interpretations. Hard Times Come Again No More actually predates the war by six years, but its sentiments were in due course to seem painfully appropriate. Aura Lea – which a century later spawned the Elvis Presley hit Love Me Tender – is also specially poignant in articulating how sharply those in combat missed sweethearts left behind when conflict beckoned.

The performances are cleanly tuned and artlessly evocative, and enhanced by the contribution of Bruce Molsky, playing fiddle, guitar or banjo, or shoring up the harmonies like a latter-day AP Carter (the legendary country singer). Altogether this is a moving disc, immaculately documented and presented.


Terry Blain