Al Grund (aka The Would Man) is a talented writer, composer, and musician who has recently released a new CD of original Civil War-related songs he wrote, produced, arranged, and performed. Unlike many Civil War buffs (and artists), his work is non-partisan and apolitical, and is meant to “visit the hearts and minds of people from the common soldier to the elite general.” The lyrics in Two Soldiers: Reflections on the War Between the States capture the mood and attitude of the period and evoke a variety of emotions and feelings as the war symbolically progresses through the eight songs from the beginning of the war to its close.
Alternating styles from blues, rock, and folk music, Grund masterfully paints a vivid word and musical picture of the Civil War and its combatants and civilians. His guitar work is superb, and his harmonica playing is really quite good. The disk is available on CD Baby, as well as from other on-line vendors for about $11.95, a very price considering the quality of work.
From a wargamer’s perspective, this is great music to stick into the CD while painting or modelling terrain for your wargaming session. Living near Gettysburg, I plan to listen to this one while riding around the battlefield, as it evokes some interesting perspectives on what might have been.
Well done, Would Man, well done!
The opening song is Shiloh, a haunting six-minute song that puts the listener in the persona of a lonely Union soldier who has received bad news from home and is now involved in the bitter fighting in Tennessee. Well conceived and nicely played and sung, this is an interesting perspective on one of the bloodiest battles at that time in American history, a fight that forever changed the way most Americans looked at war.
Grund then steps back in time nearly a year to present The Night before Bull Run, which captures the early emotions that war was a glorious adventure (something the reality of Shiloh and other 1862 battles would forever dash). His lyrics are from the viewpoint of a young, barely trained Union recruit about to embark on his first taste of combat. “Seeing the elephant” was still an unknown commodity, one that the evening before the fight still harkened up images of a relatively bloodless, sanitary little fight that would be satisfying to the need for personal glory.
The McIntyre Brothers very neatly captures the idea of the Civil War as a struggle of Brother Against Brother, a very personal look at three brothers — one in blue, one in gray, and one, a preacher, who tries in vain to stay neutral as his family and his nation are torn apart by sectional strife.
The fourth track is entitled Ulysses and is a homage to one of America’s expert horsemen and leaders of men — Ulysses S. Grant. The Buckeye general was one of the true success stories of the Civil War, rising from relative obscurity to international fame in the four years of conflict.
Chancellorsville evokes the emotional upheaval and turmoil that perhaps marked the unknown Confederate soldier who has learned that he has inadvertantly shot the famed Stonewall Jackson — an error he must live with. Written from a female perspective, this is the longest song on the CD, but one of the most interesting.
Another Buckeye (you can tell I’m from Ohio and am partial to Ohio generals!) of note was James Birdseye McPherson, a general who at times was brilliant in his field tactics, but was perhaps best known as one of the most beloved generals in the entire Union army. His men adored him. His death during the Atlanta Campaign cast a pall over the entire North and gave “sincere sorrow” to his opponents, including John Bell Hood, his classmate at West Point. Farewell McPherson stirs the feelings of the common soldier as they say goodbye to a “soldier’s general.”
Two Soldiers is clearly a very personal song for Allan Grund, as a soldier comforts his dying friend, an event the musician experienced personally with a buddy of his. This one is a classic — a song that will haunt you and challenge you to appreciate your relationships and friendships while you still have time.
Finally, this excellent array of ballads and stories concludes with Gettysburg, the penultimate Civil War battle and the one most seared into the consciousness of America. It was a fight that still elicits controversy and speculation, with two recurring themes being James Longstreet’s reluctance to fight an offensive battle on enemy soil and the wish during (and especially after) the battle from the rank and file and many generals that Stonewall’s presence might have made a huge difference at Gettysburg. Grund’s song blends these two themes into a cohesive story.
Al Grund’s though-provoking lyrics, coupled with his strong musical arrangements and clear vocals make Two Soldiers one of the very best (if not THE best) collection of contemporary Civil War songs. Clearly written and conceived from his heart, the songs are passionate and evocative, and this CD is well worth a listen.