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Song of America

4.2 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 18, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A landmark 50-song, three-CD set featuring John Mellencamp, The Blind Boys ofAlabama, MarthaWainwright, The Black Crowes, Andrew Bird and many others This one of a kind collection tells the history of our country through song, from 1492 through modern times, offering listeners a way to connect with America's vast musical and cultural heritage. These are new versions of beloved songs interpreted by an array of diverse and talented contemporary artists. The project was envisioned by Janet Reno and artist/producer Ed Pettersen, and co-produced by Pettersen and Grammy-winning producer David Macias.

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On paper, this project appears as improbable as the partnership that conceived it: former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and veteran Nashville indie-punk troubadour Ed Pettersen (who happens to be married to Reno's niece). The history of America through 50 songs, encapsulated on three discs? The first disc alone spanning 1492 to 1860, from the landing of Columbus to the Civil War? An idiosyncratic selection that includes songs familiar to almost all Americans and others familiar to practically none? Rather than a dry, dusty museum piece, the results are compulsively listenable, as producer Pettersen invites a wide range of artists to do what they do best--interpret the material and make it their own. Highlights are many, as the early days of the republic find Harper Simon (Paul's son) rendering "Yankee Doodle" as if it were an indie-rock Viagra commercial; the advent of the Civil War shows Marah, like an American Pogues, bringing a punk ferocity to "John Brown's Body"; and Del McCoury's bluegrass rendition of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" finds an older man renewing a young Bob Dylan's anthem. The sonorous dignity that jazz vocalist Andy Bey brings to the Depression-era panhandler's plea, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," is particularly moving, as is Bettye LaVette's gospel rendition of Bruce Springsteen's AIDS ballad, "Streets of Philadelphia." Revolution, immigration, war, atomic power, civil rights, feminism, faith, depression, and despair--it's all here, in song. --Don McLeese
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 18, 2007)
  • Original Release Date: September 18, 2007
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Label: Thirty One Tigers
  • Run Time: 200 minutes
  • ASIN: B000T3GK8O
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,526 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
While I'm not generally a fan of "patriotic" music, the idea behind the CD, and its compilers, were interesting enough that I felt honor-bound to listen to it. However, that obligatory once-over soon transformed into surprised appreciation. The various musicians have brought this music back to life. I'd seen some of these songs as mere jingoistic relics, their relevance gone, their emotions hokey; they seemed appropriate fare only for military bands on July 4th. Yet these new covers, taken together, are powerful and moving. I feel as though I'm listening to some of these familiar pieces for the very first time. The politics of the piece are not as simplistic as one might expect, and that impressed me. For example, the Civil War song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" is represented by the Irish anti-war song with the same melody, "Johnny I Hardly Knew Thee" (experts disagree over which version inspired the other), and that might seem to suggest a liberal political bent. Yet the same CD offers an incredibly wistful version of "Dixie's Land." And that points to the real magic of this CD collection: it provides us with a musical snapshot of the hopes, dreams, and fears of many communities of Americans, then and now, workers and soldiers and farmers, immigrants and native peoples, women and men, sometimes despairing and sometimes confident, throughout the major events that have shaped our history. Not in the mood for a history lesson? Then just let yourself enjoy the gorgeous music.
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By J. Barry on September 28, 2007
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Simply stated, this is a collection of music that needs to be heard by anyone who considers themselves an "American", who loves the music of our great country, and especially if like me is part of the "baby boom generation" who grew up learning many of these songs in elementry school music classes. This is an amazing concept cd that takes notable events of American history and puts them into song.

To most a quick look at the song listing would draw little more than a yawn and a quick click of the back button on their internet explorer. But this collection of music deserves to be listened to.

The collection is divided up into various periods of American song, 1492 - 1860, 1861-1945, and 1946 to present. The 50 songs in the collection are performed by current day artist/ musicians taking each song and making it their own while remaining true to the original.

There is no mistaking songs like "Yankee Doodle", "God Save the King" (aka "My Country tis of Thee"), "John Brown's Body" to a terrific version of Joanna Smith doing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" all the way up to current songs such as Springsteen's "Youngstown" to a killer performance of Bettye Lavette doing "Streets of Philadelphia", this collection will keep you busy for weeks discovering all of the wonderful songs that make up the real "Great American Songbook"

I believe 5 stars should be reserved only for a couple of truely great cds each year, and this is definately 5 star material. One of the best of this year - kudos to Ed Petterson for "sticking to the plan" pulling all of this wonderful music together despite all the setbacks and for Janet Reno (yes, that Janet Reno) for helping make a thought into a reality.

If you love diverse music, history, patriotism, and yes nostalgia, BUY THIS CD - you will not be disapointed.
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Format: Audio CD
What a treasure for both music lovers and history buffs! I have thouroughly enjoyed the cds. I hope that they will also be used as teaching tools in our nation's history (and music) classrooms. Kudos! What a wonderful gift this music is to our country.
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Format: Audio CD
This is a very interesting mix of styles and artists, all contributing to an innovative collection....an amazing idea, with a nice updated twist.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Beautifully recorded and obviously a labor of love, this collection of 50 songs covers the music of America from 1492 (!)- 2007. While there are some surprises along the way - this is a collection that perhaps might remind our nation in this year of political acrimony what America is all about.
I was prompted to view this set based on Betty LaVette's contribution and ordered it prompted by the addition of Janis Ian to the mix. Some songs ("Say it Loud", "The Message", "What's Going On") pale - by a very large margin - in comparison to the originals while many of the tracks on Disc 2 1861-1945 have more than thoughtful arrangements that update the selections. Betty LaVette does a magnificent rendition of Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia" which is worth the price of the collection - which at $15 is more than reasonable. Janis Ian's contribution is great and Alan Jackson's 9/11 memorial "Where were you when the world stopped turning" sung by the Wrights is sobering. Not a must - but a more than worthy addition to your CD collection.
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Format: Audio CD
Great collection of music for anyone. I listen to it at home and have used it in my classroom as a teaching tool. Great stuff.
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Format: Audio CD
Loving the Danielson's freak folk cover of Happy Days Are Here Again!
And the Bettye LaVette cover of Streets of Philadelphia is also a must hear.
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Format: Audio CD
"Song of America" is a 3-disk compilation of 50 songs developed by former US Attorney General, Janet Reno, and her in-law, music producer, Ed Pettersen. Their goal was to document this country's story in song. The songs are done by contemporary artists with contemporary arrangements on themes that are timeless.

The music covers three broad periods of US history:

Disk 1: 1492 - 1860 (Red Disk)
Disk 2: 1861 - 1945 (White Disk)
Disk 3: 1946 to present (Blue Disk)

"Song of America" is a novel concept and considering the education system's attempts at teaching history to students, why not reach out via music? I don't know if the disks would work in today's classroom, but one of my best (non-coach) history teachers in high school played musical collections as part of our lectures.

There are many standouts in this collection. I'm only mentioning a few:

"The Great Atomic Power" Elizabeth Cook and the Grascals is a lively gospel return to the Fifties and Sixties when many contemplated their own personal bomb shelters and the atomic symbol inspired fear and wonder in our hearts.

"Over There" Jen Chapin (Harry Chapin's daughter) has the ability to tell stories with her voice just like her Dad did--and the spare arrangement really tells what's happening 'over there.'

"Johnny, I hardly knew ye" Janis Ian's fluting voice on this old standard will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

"Streets of Philadelphia" Bettye LaVette may be one of the few people who can cover a Springsteen song and almost make me forget who wrote it in the first place.

"The Farmer is the Man who Feeds them All" by Otis Brown will break your heart.

R. Kyle, April 2008
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