Yesterday was very loud here. Today it’s very quiet but still intense, because today’s album is All Will Prosper by Goldmund (with a name like that, you know he’s not narcissistic), which is out tomorrow on Western Vinyl. Goldmund is actually film composer Keith Kenniff, who’s done several previous albums of ambient electroacoustic stuff under the name Helios. This new release is quite a change, a Civil War concept album featuring instrumental versions of American folk songs from that era. For quiet music, this has enormously rich presence, the guitar close-miked with tons of reverb, the piano clearly sustained despite the fact that the keys here are typically limited to doubling or providing simple harmonies with the guitar line. Most of the tracks here clock in at not much more than two minutes, sometimes less. And in case anybody’s wondering: this is not new age music (although fans of that stuff probably wouldn’t tune this out – it’s extremely accessible and makes a great chillout mix).
It’s a mix of songs both well-known (Amazing Grace reinvented as murky, loping campfire song) and extremely obscure (the Union ballad The Flag of Columbia Shall Float O’er Us Still done as echoey, hypnotic postminimalist piano waltz). The opening couple of tracks, The Death of General Wolfe and Ashoken Farewell are both memorably wary elegies, a feeling that recurs later with the vivid simplicity of the gospel-tinged version of Just Before the Battle Mother. All Quiet on the Potomac has a classical stateliness, while Barbara Allen is closer to Kenniff’s Helios work, echoey and lightly spacious. With its somewhat icy, minimalist piano intro, Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier builds to an even greater ominousness as the guitar comes in – has this been used in a foreshadowing scene in some movie? If not, it ought to be.
Shenandoah – available as a free download – is the most surreally psychedelic track here, a fluttery piano loop behind Kenniff’s pensive, almost rubato fretwork. The Battle Cry of Freedom is done not as an anthem but a pretty folk tune; The Yellow Rose of Texas not as a dance, but a stately anthem; When Johnny Comes Marching Home, not as a triumphant parade piece, but a dirge (although good as it is, nothing beats the remake by the Clash). And Kenniff avoids setting off a powderkeg with Dixie by giving it a proto-ragtime feel, ironic to the extreme considering the song’s racist connotations. A couple of solo piano pieces here don’t make the cut: Kenniff is a considerably better guitarist than pianist. But the strongest tracks here invite the ghosts of the Civil War to flutter outside your window in the mist on a cold damp night.