Discovery: Of Great and Mortal Men

Years ago, my friend Chris King and his arts collective/label Skuntry began a musical project called The Guide to Dead Presidents, the idea of which was to commission–sans monetary dead presidents–songs about the expired leaders of the not-always-so-free world. You can hear some of the results here, but as with many a noble endeavor, it succumbed to the Law of Scarcity of Resources and Unspooling Time.

This year, an Indiana indie label Standard Recording proved that King was ahead of the long tailing curve. The label’s excellent Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidencies is a Sufjanian shaggy dog of a triple album–and a surprisingly engaging listen. Marshaled together by J. Matthew Gerken, Christian Kiefer, and Jefferson Pitchet, the collection turns the minutiae of history into a kind of freak folk Ken Burns epic, in which myths are restored to a no-less mysterious present. Collaborators include Tom Brosseau, Bill Callahan, Mark Kozelek, Stephen Yerkey, Rosie Thomas and Saint Louis’s own Magnolia Summer paying tribute to William McKinley.

Here’s an especially lovely song about James Monroe, sung by Marla Hansen of My Brightest Diamond.

The Last Cocked Hat

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