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Reviewed by Doug Freeman, December 7, 2007, Music

The War: Soundtrack and Music from the Second World War


Despite the deluge of recent World War II histories, the era's music has received little consideration. Unfortunately, the 4-CD soundtrack to Ken Burns' The War does little to improve the situation. Though radio served as the war's primary medium, there's scant context for the songs presented, either in the recordings themselves or the accompanying booklet, and only one direct broadcast is offered, a 1943 Your Hit Parade introduction to Frank Sinatra's "Let's Get Lost." The two extraneous albums of period songs can't be faulted for their inclusions, with big-band classics from Glenn Miller ("In the Mood"), Benny Goodman ("Sing Sing Sing"), and Tommy Dorsey ("I'll Be Seeing You") to popular tunes from Sinatra, Coleman Hawkins ("Body and Soul"), Louis Armstrong ("Memories of You"), and Al Dexter ("Pistol Packin' Mama"). Billie Holiday glistens on "Pennies From Heaven," and Doris Day's vocals shine on Les Brown's "Sentimental Journey," while Cootie Williams' exceptional "Echoes of Harlem" strikes the only ominous notes. Noticeably absent, however, are iconic hits like the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" or Kay Kyser's "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." Yet like 1990 doc The Civil War's appropriation of "Ashokan Farewell," Burns' application of contemporary contributions on the actual soundtrack is marvelous. Wynton Marsalis' originals, like the stunningly haunted "Movin' Back" and beautiful "Until I'm in Your Arms Again," are as poignant as William Walton's Blitz-era composition "The Death of Falstaff," performed by the London Philharmonic, and compensate for the overly saccharine "American Anthem" that themed the series. The War offers an excellent soundtrack but a poor compilation.


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