The music of the American civil war still polarises. Re-enactment buffs favour battle hymns; folklorists like their fiddles preserved in aspic. This two-CD collection, helmed by film music co-ordinator Randall Poster, aims for compassionate neutrality, lining up big guns (Loretta Lynn, Steve Earle) alongside Johnny-come-latelies (Pokey LaFarge). Across 32 tracks it tries to capture the experience of an era from all sides. Rebel Soldier, an Appalachian lament sung grippingly by Jamey Johnson, could speak for Union troops too. The collators aim for loose authenticity, but trusted hands such as T-Bone Burnett are allowed to go jazz, while the poisoned chalice of Dixie is mischievously entrusted to a Brit – Karen Elson, the ex-Mrs Jack White.
Kitty Empire is the Observer's pop critic. She has written for NME and occasionally crops up on Radio 4, 5Live, BBC 6Music, and has appeared on BBC2's The Culture Show and Newsnight Review. @kittyempire666