Album review of 'Bloody War: Songs 1924-1939' by various artists

Sunday, August 29, 2010; E03

Bloody War:

Songs 1924 -1939

For the past 50 years or so, popular songs about this country's wars have largely fallen into one of two camps -- patriotic anthems like Barry Sadler's "The Ballad of the Green Berets," or protest statements like System of a Down's "Boom!" But as "Bloody War," a new compilation of recordings from the 1920s and '30s, poignantly attests, there was a time in this nation's history when songwriters engaged their subject in terms more personal than polemic -- a time when singers were less concerned with ideology than with the human costs of war, especially among their working-class families and neighbors, many of whom paid the price.

"Just at the scene of a battle floor/Just at the close of day/Wounded and bleeding upon the ground/Two dying soldiers lay," mourns North Carolina singer Zeke Morris to open the record. One soldier holds a ringlet of gray hair, thinking of how his mother will take the news of his death. The other clutches a lock of brown curls, pining for his sweetheart. Meanwhile, in the fiddle-and-steel-steeped title track, Al Treadway of Jimmy Yates's Boll Weevils laments, "I was a simple country boy, I lived out on the farm/I never even killed a flea, or done nobody harm/Bloody war, oh bloody war."

Several Depression-era luminaries, from Kentucky banjoist Buell Kazee to Fiddlin' John Carson to black string-band leader Coley Jones, are represented here. So is the sanctified blues duo William and Versey Smith, whose tambourine-spanked "Everybody Help the Boys Come Home" is an empathy-rich precursor to Freda Payne's Vietnam plaint, "Bring the Boys Home."In other words, these old songs couldn't be timelier. A portion of the record's proceeds will benefit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org).

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

Recommended tracks

"Bloody War," "Everybody Help the Boys Come Home"

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