By STEVEN NALLEY
Hannah and Caroline Melby’s contribution to “The 1861 Project,” a collection of new songs telling stories of the Civil War, sounds at first as if it takes the “blue” out of bluegrass.
Confident fiddle chords plunge in and quickly rise, as if to greet listeners. The banjo starts licking ears immediately, never going away, never slowing down.
Then the lyrics come.
“Fences, fields and farms / Churches, stores and barns / Flames can’t get no higher / The South’s on fire,” the Melby sisters sing. “Ashes everywhere / Smoke thick in the air / Like a funeral pyre / The South’s on fire.”
Released Tuesday, “The 1861 Project” features “The South’s On Fire” along with 16 other Civil War songs, each performed by different artists ranging from up-and-comers like the Melbys to such veterans as Marty Stuart and John Anderson.
The Melby sisters are two of the five members of Starkville-native band Nash Street, who are now living in Nashville to build their connections, reputation and skills. Caroline Melby, vocalist and mandolin player for Nash Street, said the collaborative album has opened many doors for the band.
“It already has done so much,” Caroline said. “So far, we’ve already made connections with the significant people involved in the project. Networking and making those industry connections is part of what the music business is all about for a band’s journey to success.”
Caroline said being featured on the same album as Marty Stuart and John Anderson was not only a privilege but a boon because every act that contributed to the album will receive copies of the album to sell at concerts.
“We are the up and coming artists on this album; the other artists are all national acts,” Caroline said. “We hope the song will take us far. Since Marty Stuart and John Anderson will be selling it at their tables following a show, we should benefit from that exposure. Those are artists that we’ve grown up listening to and really admired, and to be on an album with them is such an honor.”
Caroline said Nash Street first met the album’s executive producer Paul Schatzkin and its producer Thomm Jutz at the Folk Alliance Convention in Memphis in February.
Schatzkin said he knew “The South’s On Fire” would fit the Melby sisters as soon as he heard the demo for the song.
“I’ve wanted to find a way to work with Hannah and Caroline Melby since I first heard them in the lobby of a hotel in Memphis earlier this year,” Schatzkin said. “When they came into the studio, they just knocked it out of the park. It’s one of the best tracks on ‘The 1861 Project’ CD.”
Like other songs on the album, “The South’s on Fire” features a crew of backing musicians who have worked with Kentucky Thunder, Delbert McClinton, Ricky Skaggs and Willie Nelson. Hannah Melby said it was a gift to meet these performers, as well as other prominent musicians and songwriters from Nashville.