Traditional Bluegrass Song "2 Soldiers" Revisited. Some Will Say Killed In Action.

Song are image: Two Soldiers (arranged by singer-songwriter Robert Palomo)The traditional song most widely know by the title Two Soldiers dates from the period of the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865). There are many variations of the lyrics and the tune. It is often played by bluegrass bands and might be called a "bluegrass standard".

I had never cared for the song the way bluegrass bands usually play it, but I could never quite put my finger on why. One day I  was listening to the song on a new CD by a well-known bluegrass band, and it suddenly struck me that all the bluegrass bands I ever heard play the song did it in a sprightly cheerful tempo with zippy Scruggs-style banjo picking and "down-home" fiddling. But the song is a story about the horror, tragedy and futile waste of war. Sprightly and cheerful just ain't in these lyrics, folks!

I was bugged enough that I set out to create an arrangement I felt would be more in keeping with the feeling of the lyrics. I still wanted to use banjo on account of the tradition, but not with the typical zippy bluegrass bark and pop. While I was working on it I came across a rendition by the late great Jerry Garcia and mandolin patriarch David Grisman which was, I thought, very much in keeping with the spirit of the lyrics. Garcia's vocal on the track is kind of a whine... actually very appropriate to the song. But so much so that it depressed me to listen to the tune! I found myself skipping that track on the CD most of the time. 

For my arrangement, I wanted something in between sprightly/cheerful and depressing. I ended up with a wistfully sad and evocative sort of feel that I think works, and strikes a happy medium. The sadness comes from the realization that we have apparently learned nothing since this song was first created, and that after 5000 years of recorded history, we still don't get it and the same crap is still going on with no end in sight.

So what do you think? Citation for bravery? Killed in action? 

Gravestone photo: Patrick Feller


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