The secret inclusion of “The Internationale” is a clue to Byrd’s politics, but I hear no irony on this record; it’s an artist’s embrace of his country through its music, one side of the nation Byrd can presumably accept without ambivalence (and of course “Dixie” appears in counterpoint to “John Brown”).
Byrd is no Charles Ives, and the music here never reaches for the majesty of, say, “General William Booth Enters into Heaven” (a marvelous piece that can be found on Charles Ives: Music for Chorus, Columbia MS 6921). It’s playful and archival; in Byrd’s words, “the sounds depict brass bands, wind bands, calliopes, fifes and drums, Regina music boxes and Wurlitzer automatic organs, music hall orchestras and whorehouse pianos, a chorus of boy whistlers, jazz bands hot and sweet, a Kentucky parlor on a warm afternoon in 1902, the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814 [the event that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner”], the Conquest of the American Wilderness, and a 15-year-old girl cornetist in church on the Fourth of July.” The sounds depict all that, and also a man trying, in a spirit of great fun, to come to terms with his country 200 years after it was founded.
Byrd’s album is bright, lively, spunky, and full of charm; the music one hears all one’s life without ever really listening to it. The chance given, it would be un-American to pass it up.
Rolling Stone, December 2, 1976