All Will Prosper
Goldmund; Western Vinyl
Campfires and Battlecries
Philip Ley and Friends; Hometown Productions
Although both albums are Civil War–themed and cover several of the same traditional songs, Goldmund’s recent All Will Prosper and Philip Ley & Friends’ Campfires and Battlecries (Echos of the Civil War) have little in common. Taken together, they serve as a case study in two approaches to history: The former is mainly concerned with a subjective experience, the latter in being more “accurate” and objective.
Ley’s arrangements are traditional—harmonica, mandolin, guitar, vocals—and renditions are therefore fairly close to how they would have been performed in their heyday. Ley, a skillful guitar player, has assembled a tight crew for this album. In particular, his vocals are nicely complemented by the backup vocalists chosen for each track. But his commitment to tradition goes only so far. Higher production value diminishes the feeling of accuracy—this is no Alan Lomax field recording, you’ll realize as soon as you pop it in. The feeling is stylized, newer, even though the arrangements don’t necessarily break any new stylistic ground.
All Will Prosper eschews traditional arrangement in favor of a more difficult task—capturing the feeling of a period. Goldmund arrives at the battlefield by way of a minimalist tradition, using piano and guitar to fashion moody hymns from classics like “All Quiet on the Potomac” and “Shenandoah.” The results are moving, particularly on “Dixie” and “The Ballad of Barbara Allen.”
These two albums set out to do different things, and will appeal to different tastes. Philip Ley’s liner notes suggest possible uses for Campfires and Battlecries: hunting down relics, sitting by a fire, etc. All Will Prosper is perhaps a better match for someone willing to consider the war’s lived experience.
Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.