Jay Unger and Molly Mason are best known for their performance of the hauntingly beautiful tune Ashokan Farewell, a tune that Ken Burns used as the theme for his monumental PBS documentary The Civil War. Though Unger composed the tune in 1980, the Burns documentary has forever linked it with the Civil War. Unger and Mason perform it on this live album together with many songs of the Civil War and Civil War era.
Unger and Mason put on quite a show. They display a mastery of a variety of instruments as they play fiddles, guitar, banjo, piano, and harmonica. They sing, harmonize, tell stories and jokes, and induce the audience to participate in their show, all to a fine effect. Unger's voice is somewhat less than impressive, but loaded with sincerity, and when he harmonizes with Mason his vocal defects disappear and the result is quite good. They give brief but helpful introductions to these old war folk songs, providing useful information on song histories and context. But above all, they play with a sublime simplicity that can melt your heart, particularly when playing fiddle or piano.
The standout tracks on `Civil War Classics' are the fiddle tunes, where their talent absolutely shines. Ashokan Farewell is available on a couple of other CDs, but if you don't yet have it in your collection, that would be reason enough to buy this CD - it is one of the most haunting tunes that I have ever heard, and played here with simplicity and beauty in a five minute long version. The three fiddle tune medleys that they play are toe tapping lively, and a nice counter point to the slow, haunting grandeur of Ashokan Farewell. Molly Mason sings The Faded Coat of Blue with a clear, honest voice, and Jay Unger puts his less than perfect vocal abilities to great use on the joking soldier's parody song Hard Crackers.
Jay and Molly thoroughly captivated their audience with this performance at Gettysburg College, and if you love old time folk and Civil War music, you too will be captivated by this charming live CD.