SONGS OF WAR

Some of country's top stars celebrate America's enduring spirit on a new album about the Civil War.

As with love and heartbreak, war songs are eternal. Randy Travis wrote "America Will Always Stand" the week after the Sept. 11 attacks. As if to illustrate how the emotional responses to war haven't changed over the centuries, a film director chose Randy's new patriotic tune as the title cut to a CD of songs about the Civil War.

Travis' tune joins other original songs recorded by Darryl Worley, Lee Ann Womack, Ricky Skaggs, Josh Turner, Blake Shelton and others. Each song delves into people's reactions to the stresses of wartime.

"Wartime always brings forward songs about the pride of a nation or the emotions of loved ones who miss those who've gone off to fight," says Ron Maxwell, director of the films Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, movies based on the Civil War. "People go through the same emotions, whether it's the Civil or the Iraq war." Maxwell also produced the new CD, the first in a series of albums he will produce in association with Time-Life Music.

The stars jumped at the opportunity to contribute a song. "I'm from South Carolina, and I know for a fact that some of my ancestors fought for the Confederacy," says Josh Turner. "I've always been intrigued by that whole era and by the Civil War in general. I think it's such an important part of our country's heritage."

Maxwell wanted the album to be different than other Civil War music collections, so he used only new songs instead of going back and recording material written during the war.

Josh, for instance, co-wrote a song inspired by a scene in Maxwell's Gods and Generals. Soldiers' accounts of the Battle of Fredericksburg told of an aurora appearing across the night sky during a break in the fighting, and Maxwell simulated the phenomenon in his movie.

"Nothing like it had ever happened in that area before that night or after that night," says "The Long Black Train" singer. "People have interpreted it to mean a lot of different things, and we touch on that in our song, 'Tears of God.' "

The album's first single, "One Letter," was performed by The Wilsons, three sisters from Alabama who are making their first appearance on an album. "It's a song about undying love and keeping your faith in someone even though they're away from home," says Rachel, who sings with her siblings Jenny and Jill.

Meanwhile, Maxwell has already started work on a second collection of Civil War songs, which will include Kenny Rogers, Alison Krauss and Trace Adkins.

"It will eventually be a series of albums that we can put in a box set under the brand of America Will Always Stand," says Maxwell. "Eventually, we'll do albums on the Revolutionary War, on the World Wars, on other tough times in our nation. It will be a series that celebrates the American spirit in song."

-- Michael McCall

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