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Song of America

Over the weekend I drove up to Omarama and used the three hour road trip as an opportunity to listen to an album called Song of America, which I had been put onto by an American friend after we played a song off it at a recent gig in Naseby. I knew nothing much of the album, but I found it on Spotify and downloaded it. A triple-album with over 50 songs on it, it was perfect for a long-ish drive, so I chucked it up and started listening. It was only by the time I got almost to Omarama that the concept of the album was becoming clear to me. It was a journey through American history, revealed in song.


Song of America starts with the native American “Lakota dream song,” then touches on the pilgrim music that crossed the Atlantic to take root in the cold swamps of Virginia. It traverses African-American spirituals from the days of slavery; rally-calls from the era of independence, civil war anthems, popular tunes from the 20s and 30’s and the Second World War, folk and rock from the 60’s and 70’s before bringing us into the current day with a nod to rap music and 9/11.

By the end of the drive I was hooked,waiting in fascination to for each subsequent track to reveal its chapter of the story. I actually finished my journey a couple of songs before the album ended so I had to sit in the car for another ten minutes to hear it out. I am planning a trip to the States very soon, so this sort of thing has a lot of resonance at the moment.

Here were a few of the highlights of that first listen:

Let us break Bread together – the Blind Boys of Alabama;

Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child – Beth Nielsen Chapman

Peg and Awl (the album version is by Freddy Johnston, but this links to the version off Anthology of American Folk Music)

Go Down Moses

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye – Janis Ian

Thousands are Sailing to Ameri-kay – Tim O’Brien

Deportee – Old Crow Medicine Show

Rosie the Riveter – Suzy Bogguss

Youngstown – Matthew Ryan

The Message – Shorty Wop (link to the original by Grandmaster Flash)

And finally…

Here’s a link to the recording of some of the tracks on the album

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