If your mind wanders into wondering what July 4th is about in between beer and barbecues, another show on Netflix or blowing shit up, how about a traditional ditty?
While “Soldier’s Joy” floated around for a couple of centuries as a fiddle tune, this rendition by Laura Veirs from her 2011 album Tumble Bee goes with lyrics penned by folksinger Jimmie Driftwood in 1957. Driftwood’s lyrics hit up all the critical battles of the Revolution: the crossing of the Delaware River, surprising and capturing ten thousand Hessians at Trenton, the Battle of Cowpens, and the surrender of old “Grandma Britain.” When set to Veirs and company’s stirring musicianship, complemented with Colin Meloy’s warm duetting, this rousing reel will turn your Independence Day gathering into an old-fashioned hoedown!
Cheerful as it sounds, the melody became popularized around the Civil War, with “soldier’s joy” referring to the mixture of beer, whiskey and morphine that assuaged many an ailing soldier’s agony. Interesting how Driftwood’s lyrics subverted this darker history to something more patriotic. Pedantic nerds may balk at the lyrics, but Driftwood’s done his homework. His song not only retells history, but also portrays the perspective of an American revolutionary soldier and the elation he felt at winning freedom.
What popular songs would you be playing to get into the spirit of the 4th of July?
Happy Independence Day!