Soundtrack of the American Soldier (CD review)

Col. Jim R. Keene, United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus. Navona Records NV6297 (includes CD and Blu-ray disc).

By John J. Puccio

The title of the album, Soundtrack of the American Soldier, might be a bit misleading. It might lead one to believe the disc contains the soundtrack of a movie called “The American Soldier.” But it isn’t. Not quite, anyway. The album is actually a collection of pieces by various composers written to celebrate the stories of American soldiers as depicted in several different movies and musical suites. Much of the music is familiar, and all of it is well presented by Col. Jim Keene and the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus.

Here’s a rundown on the disc’s contents. You’ll recognize most of the names and many of the songs:
  1. Karpman: “Brass Ceiling” (from The Journey of General Ann Dunwoody)
  2. Steiner: Overture to Sergeant York
  3. Giacchino: Medal of Honor Suite
  4. Cohan: “Over There”
  5. Moshier: A Portrait of Honor
  6. Debeasi: American Sniper Suite
  7. Williams: March (from 1941)
  8. Beal: The Long Road Home
  9. Goldsmith/Bernstein: The Great WWII Medley
10. Berlin: “Good Bless America”
11. Key: “The Star-Spangled Banner”
12. Isham: “Army Strong”
13. Williams: “The Jedi Steps” and “Finale” (from Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Next, a word about the band. According the album jacket, “The United States Army Field Band of Washington, DC is the U.S. Army’s premier touring musical organization, traveling throughout the country and internationally to connect the American people to their Army and to represent the nation around the world. At the heart of the Band’s mission is telling stories of service that honor veterans and remind people what makes America a country worth protecting.”

After listening to this album, I’d have to say that the Army Field Band is not only the Army's premier touring band, they are one of the best bands in the country. Their precision and execution are remarkable, and they produce a rich, robust sound in the military manner. Everything is as clean and sharply creased as a military officer’s uniform. What’s more, the leader, Col. Jim R. Keene, keeps things moving at a healthy clip. Admittedly, he may not be as flexible or imaginative as some better-known conductors, but this is military music, and Col. Keene ensures that it remains true to its source.

Now, about the music. It seems a little odd to me that the producers of the album would choose to begin things with Laura Karpman’s “Brass Ceiling,” not because it isn’t worthy music but because it’s among the least well-known music on the disc, and it’s not exactly a curtain raiser. Nevertheless, it does set an appropriately serious tone for the album, so all is well. I also had to question the inclusion of John Williams’s march from the Steven Spielberg movie 1941. Again, not because the march isn’t a fun piece but because Williams wrote it for a comedy film, and he wrote it as a sort of parody of the march from The Great Escape (from which we hear a snippet in “The Great WWII Medley”). I suppose the album’s producers in this case wanted a little something to lighten the mood, a bit like ending the program with music from a Star Wars film, not exactly “American” soldiers, but I guess we get the idea.

The rest of the music, though, fits the pattern of good, patriotic, militaristic tunes. The Overture to the movie Sergeant York has a pleasant, poignant, homey, classic-Hollywood feel to it. The Medal of Honor Suite is more theatrical than some of the others and more sedately somber. The George M. Cohan number “Over There” finds soloists Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Erbe and Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Garcia and the Soldiers’ Chorus in good voice. (We hear the chorus again in moving renditions of “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”)

And so it goes. The material is appropriate both for celebrating the American soldier and showcasing the talents of the Army Field Band. If any of these things appeal to you, the album makes an attractive proposition.

Producer Dan Merceruio and engineer Leslie Ann Jones recorded the music at Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California in October and November 2018. The album contains two discs: one a regular CD containing the songs in two-channel stereo and the other a Blu-ray containing the songs in two-channel stereo, 5.1 surround sound, and 5.1.4 channel Dolby Atmos. I listened and am reporting on the stereo CD.

Excellent clarity. Excellent depth of field. Excellent transient response. Yeah, mostly an excellent sounding album. There’s a lot of brass involved, so you can expect if your system favors the high midrange or treble at all it might seem a bit bright or forward. Mostly, however, the sound is realistic, miked at a moderate enough distance for lifelike reproduction. I’ve been on the main Skywalker soundstage several times, so I have some idea what things sound like in that big room, and this recording is about what I remember.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa