Reno’s Makin’ Mix Tapes

When Song of America, a three-CD, 50-track journey through centuries worth of American music hits record stores in September, it comes with a stamp of approval—and an executive producer credit—from former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

No, seriously. Reno, along with producer (and nephew-in-law) Ed Pettersen and Grammy-winning co-producer David Macias put together a bona fide, red-white-and-blue mix tape. Reno, a big fan of Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Mahalia Jackson, and Verdi, told Mother Jones that she stayed as far away as possible from the recording studio on this project. “I belong in the music studio even less than on the dance floor,” Reno joked via email. “But [these songs] can take your mind off of work or school and help you relax after a long day.”

Be warned. This CD does not rock. It saunters. There are songs in here that I haven’t heard since elementary school. Or Sunday School. Or ever. The box set includes contemporary versions of songs like “Yankee Doodle,” “Trail of Tears,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Home on the Range,” and the World War II anthem “Over There” performed by the likes of Janis Ian, Marah, Martha Wainwright, Blind Boys of Alabama, Bettye LaVette, and Old Crow Medicine Show. Don’t worry, I’ve never heard of most of these performers either.

Reno wraps things up with some juicier tracks like “What’s Going On,” “I am Woman” and “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and concludes the disc with John Cougar Mellancamp’s rendition of “This Land is Your Land.” This predominantly country-folk compilation would seriously buzzkill any legitimate house party, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this thing is booming from speakers at the RNC and the DNC in 2008.