The Civil War Grand Military Ball dates back to 2007, but I only recently encountered it while looking for new nineteenth century dance music. It is the fourth recording by the Tennessee-based 52nd Regimental String Band and the first to consist specifically of dance music.
The most immediately noticeable difference between this album and most of my others is that most of the tracks include vocals, which may or may not be to everyone's taste for dancing. I have mixed feelings about it, myself. I prefer my nineteenth-century dance music instrumental rather than vocal, but with a couple of notable exceptions (see below) I enjoyed the singing and was amused to realize that the two songs ("Polly Wolly Doodle" and "Kemo Kimo") in one medley are ones I remember singing versions of as a little girl growing up in Texas.
The instrumentation (banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, keyboard, trumpet, bones, percussion) is historically accurate and quite good, albeit with the twangy strind band sound which owes more to minstrel shows than society ballrooms. Some of the pieces have a trumpet slipped in that changes the group's sound rather dramatically.
I'm not a music historian, but I spot-checked most of the tunes and they do all appear to date back to the 1860s or earlier. The musicians are obviously experienced at playing for dancers, with nice steady tempos and no concert-music surprises like ritards or extra measures. It covers all the core dances for a mid-nineteenth century ball, and almost every track can be danced to, though not necessarily as labeled.
Overall, I'd recommend this album for dancers who don't mind dancing to vocal music, with a caution about the three songs with problematic lyrics. If vocals are not appreciated, you're only going to get three or four dance tunes from it, but it's still fun listening for those with a strong interest in the music of the era.
About those labels: along with the name of each tune (or names, for the medleys), each track is labeled with the dance it's intended for. Some of the listed dances, such as "Carolina Promenade", "Cumberland Reel", "Sweetheart Promenade", etc., I believe to be twentieth century choreographies. I've no idea how they snuck into Civil War reenacting. Fortunately, dance music is fungible, so the recordings are still useful. I'm going to mostly ignore the labels and just talk about how I'd use each track, or not:
1. Stonewall Jackson's Way/The New York Volunteer/Goober Peas (lyrics)
Labeled as a Grand March, but the tempo (95 bpm) is a little bit too stately for my tastes. Has a good martial sound with good use of the trumpet and percussion.
2. Marching Through Georgia/The Minstrel Boy/We are Coming Father Abraam (lyrics)
Labeled a Virginia Reel, and has a good length (5:33) for it, though I'd prefer the tempo (108 bpm) just a tiny bit faster.
3. Rainbow Schottische
A favorite schottische; I have at least two other recordings of it. Features the trumpet. Good dance tempo (64 bpm).
4. Turkey in the Straw/Dandy Jim (lyrics - warning!)
"Turkey in the Straw" at this tempo (82 bpm) makes a workable schottische, but "Dandy Jim", starting at 2:21 in, is one of the songs with the problematic lyrics, but can be clipped off with music editing software.
5. Riding a Raid/Auld Lang Syne (lyrics)
A pleasant waltz medley at a good dance tempo (138 bpm).
6. Sultan's Polka
Another popular tune that even had a country dance set to it, at a workable middle tempo (103 bpm) for a nineteenth-century polka. This is another track that leans heavily on the trumpet.
7. Yankee Doodle/Darlin' Nellie Gray/Battle Hymn of the Republic (lyrics)
This would also work for a Virginia Reel; it has the same slightly-slow-for-my-tastes tempo (108 bpm) and a good length (5:33).
8. Uncle Joe/Clare the Kitchen (lyrics)
The tempo is good for a lively (80 bpm) schottische, and the first tune in the medley works for it. The second (starting at 2:13) has an irregular pattern of measures that won't work for a schottische or anything else with a regular repeat structure. This track is a candidate for some careful clipping.
9. Flow Gently Sweet Afton
A lovely waltz, but at a very slow tempo for nineteenth century (108 bpm). The tune is better known to me as "Away in the Manger". Labeled for the Spanish Dance, but I would find this tempo far too slow for it.
10. Jim Along Josie (lyrics - warning!)
The historically correct lyrics mean that I will not be troubled with dancing to this, which despite its labeling feels more like a fast schottische until it suddenly picks up some polka feel at the very end.
11. Polly Wolly Doodle/Kemo Kimo (lyrics)
This could be danced as a slow polka, but once again it feels more like a sprightly (85 bpm) schottische. You can untangle the lyrics of "Kemo Kimo" with the help of an undated song sheet at the American Memory collection of the Library of Congress.
12. Come Dearest the Daylight is Dawning
Another waltz, at a good dance tempo (135 bpm).
13. The Upidee Song (lyrics)
Lively (114 bpm) polka or very slow galop. Clip the last 17 seconds of the track off for dance purposes.
14. Kingdom Coming (Year of Jubilo)/Boatman Dance (lyrics - warning!)
Another one for music editing software. The first tune of this medley has problematic lyrics, but the second (starting at 2:08) is a perfectly good mid-tempo (105 bpm) polka.
The CD may be purchased from Amazon here: