Chantilly Remembrance, by William and Carla Coleman, Cold Comfort Productions, Woodburn, Oregon, (503) 981-7547, compact disc, $15.
Here is an echo from the past, bringing to life again the ordinary men and women who strode the blood-soaked earth of America not so many years ago,” proclaim the notes accompanying the album Chantilly Remembrance by William and Carla Coleman. The Colemans, performers from suburban Portland, Oregon, aimed to re-create the sounds of the Civil War on this, their third, compact disc. They fall just short of their goal, but they do find some sense of the loss that is inseparable from war.
Of the disc’s 15 tracks, only a few are folk songs dating from the war era. Most are original works written by William. Expressive and evocative, Coleman’s folksy voice suits the tales he tells. You cannot help but be affected by his melancholy Last Farewell or Remember Chantilly, which recalls how Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates crippled the 79th New York “Highlanders” at the Battle of Chantilly, Virginia, on September 1, 1862. “Their pipes and their drums still float o’er Chantilly, and beckon to soldiers asleep in their graves,” Coleman sings.
For all its merit, the disc has one unmistakable flaw: it rarely sounds authentic. Though the couple’s attempt to remain faithful to the music of the period is admirable, two people cannot re-create a full band. The accordion and pipes sound like digitally sampled sounds activated by an electronic keyboard. John n’ Me, for example, comes off more like a modern country tune than like a 19th-century folk song.
Perhaps the best tracks on Chantilly Remembrance are the spoken-word recordings. Accompanied by gentle background music, the words of Clara Barton, Walt Whitman, and other eloquent observers create a haunting chiaroscuro of Civil War vignettes. These tracks do more to convey the pain, the longing, and the loss of war than the music does. Even the most jaded listener will understand.