Monday, February 23, 2009

"Faded Coat of Blue" Now Available!

At long last, the first song on my new CD, "Daughter of the 24th Michigan" has been released. The song is available for purchase now at Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody, CDFreedom, and eMusic.

You can click below to listen in streaming audio.

I was inspired to record this song after visiting Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the summer of 2008, during the 145th anniversary of the famous American Civil War battle that took place there on July 1 - 3, 1863. 51,000 Americans were casualties in three days of the bloodiest fighting in our nation's history. This was the place where, as teenage boys, my Great Great Grandfather and his brother fought bravely for the Union and tracing their footsteps across those killing fields had a tremendously profound impact on me. I was struck by the magnitude of their good fortune to have survived yet burned indelibly into my mind were the images of the thousands of those who were not so fortunate ... many of whom still lie in nameless graves.

"Faded Coat of Blue (The Nameless Grave)" was originally written by John Hugh McNaughton in the later days of the Civil War in 1864. The song relates the grief of a mother whose son, a Union solider, has been killed in battle and buried on the field by his comrades. The lyrics of this song will seem to some, at first glance, remarkably maudlin if not downright morbid. But one must understand that this song poignantly reflects an America in mourning and the utter despair that gripped our nation, both north and south, during and after the Civil War.

Walt Whitman said: "Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of (the Civil War); and it is best they should not — the real war will never get in the books." It is, however, through old songs such as this that we get at least a partial glimpse of what it was like to lose a loved one among the nearly 700,000 dead ... more than all other American wars combined. "Faded Coat of Blue" is not a modern-day songwriter's interpretation of the horrors our ancestors faced as the Civil War was winding to a close. This is THEIR experience in THEIR own words.

"Faded Coat of Blue" was first recorded on January 1, 1928 by Kentucky ballad singer Buell Kazee and was later popularized by The Carter Family, who recorded it for Victor in 1934. However, the Carter version is not the actual "Faded Coat of Blue" that appears in the original 1864 McNaughton composition. Instead, the Carter recording uses the melody from the "Darling Nelly Gray" folksong for the verse and another obscure folk-tune for the chorus.

Most recordings of "Faded Coat of Blue" after 1934 have followed in the tradition of the Carters' version. My version is based on the original composition, with the addition of the final "Long years have vanished" verse that appears in the 1928 Buell Kazee recording. I also added strains of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", a Union rallying tune, in the intro and outro. With my arrangement, I felt it was important to stay true to Mr. McNaughton's postbellum sentiment by including all of the original lyrics but presented within a 21st century musicality that I hope might attract new listeners. Lest we forget: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana, 1905)

Words and Music by John Hugh McNaughton. Copyright 1864 / 1865 Penn and Remington (in the public domain).

Recorded, mixed, and mastered at Daystar Recording Studio, Starke, FL and Snowdog Studio, Canton, MI. Arranged, produced, and engineered by Alex Coleman and Kristina Austin Scarcelli.

Kristina Austin Scarcelli - Lead and Background Vocals, Flute
Alex Coleman - Piano, Guitars, Bass and Drums

(Verse 1)
My brave lad, he sleeps in his faded coat of blue
In a lonely grave unknown lies the heart that beat so true
He sank faint and hungry among the famish'd brave
And they laid him sad and lonely within his nameless grave

(Verse 2)
He cried, "Give me water and just one little crumb
And my mother she will bless you through all the years to come
Oh! tell my sweet sister, so gentle, good and true
That I'll meet her up in heaven, in my faded coat of blue"

(Chorus 1)
No more the bugle calls the weary one
Rest, noble spirit in thy grave unknown
I'll find you and know you among the good and true
When a robe of white is given for your faded coat of blue

(Verse 3)
He said, "My dear comrades, you cannot take me home,
But you'll mark my grave for mother, she'll find me if she come,
I fear she'll not know me among the good and true
When I meet her up in heaven in my faded coat of blue."

(Verse 4)
No dear one was nigh him to close his sweet blue eyes
And no gentle one was by him to give him sweet replies
No stone marks the lonely sod o'er my lad, so brave and true
In his lonely grave he sleeps in his faded coat of blue

(Chorus 2)
No more the bugle calls the weary one
Rest, noble spirit in thy grave unknown
I'll find you and know you among the good and true
When a robe of white is given for your faded coat of blue

(Verse 5)
Long years have vanished, and though he comes no more
Yet my anxious heart will start with each footfall at my door
I gaze at the hilltop where he waved his last adieu
But no gallant lad I see, in his faded coat of blue

(Chorus 3)
No more the bugle calls the weary one
Rest, noble spirit in thy grave unknown
I'll find you and know you among the good and true
When a robe of white is given for your faded coat of blue

Source: Lyle Lofgren, "Inside Bluegrass", August 1998

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, President Lincoln!

"This dust was once the Man,
Gentle, plain, just and resolute—under whose cautious hand,
Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age,
Was saved the Union of These States."

-- Walt Whitman

This past weekend, we attended the 200th Birthday Party for President Abraham Lincoln at the Plymouth Historical Museum in Plymouth, Michigan. Also attending with President and Mrs. Lincoln were Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Michigan Senator Jacob Howard, Mr. Lincoln's Honor Guard of Union soldiers, and even a Rebel. Here are just a few of the pictures we took.

Fife and drum play for President Lincoln's birthday

Taking a Rebel prisoner

Marching the prisoner off to the stockade

Johnny Reb and Billy Yank share a laugh

President Lincoln chatting with some young fans

President Lincoln reciting his famous "Gettysburg Address"

Chaplain Mike Gillett, Michigan Senator Jacob Howard, me, and President Abraham Lincoln

24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Company C exhibit

Photos of various soldiers from the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Company C.