The War is the latest television mini-series by Ken Burns. If you have not seen this series you have missed some essential television. To quote from a review of his Civil War series? This is not great television. This is heroic television.
The accompanying soundtrack, also titled The War, is mostly jazz with some classical and easy listening music thrown in for good measure. The music is both old and new, combining some standards from the 1940s with new music written especially for the film. This makes the album a somewhat disjointed listen as it switches back and forth between eras, yet all in all does fit the context of the film, which is its main purpose.
The older tunes contained in The War go back to the time of our grandparents. This music provided a link to home for millions of American service personnel serving in World War II. Such tunes as “The Wang Wang Blues” by The Benny Goodman Sextet, “Basie Boogie” by Count Basie and His Orchestra, “Solitude” by Duke Ellington and the lost gem “If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight) by Kay Starr have been cleaned up as much as possible and placed back in their original context via this film series.
One of best songs on The War soundtrack is the Bing Crosby and Les Paul standard “It’s Been A Long, Long Time.” It is truly amazing the clarity of Paul’s guitar sound of 60 years ago. This performance is a lost gem and should be required listening for anyone who appreciates the guitar.
The newer music is more hit or miss. Wynton Marsalis created three tunes for the mini-series, and while interesting in themselves they seem lost when scattered around the disc.. Classical pieces by Yo-Yo Ma and Leonard Slatkin & The London Philharmonic Orchestra are used as background in the film and have difficulty standing on their own as well.
“American Anthem,” which leads off the soundtrack, is a superb. Norah Jones, backed by just a piano, brings her subtle vocal style to its haunting theme. It is a song that summarizes service and sacrifice and provides an excellent overview to the concept of the music and the film.
The War as a musical soundtrack needs to be appreciated for its parts rather than the whole. If you want to appreciate the music in context and as a unit then please see the film.