Album: Various artists

A Soldier's Sad Story, Kent/Ace
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The Independent Culture

According to this album's compilers, there are between three and four times as many "black" records taking the Vietnam War as their subject manner as there are "white" ones - a fairly accurate reflection, one imagines, of the disproportionate way that conflict impinged on the corresponding communities. As America settles into its latest ill-starred, ignorant imperial adventure, one wonders whether the sociological fallout will be as exhaustively documented by today's performers as the account assembled here, which soon shifts from the gung-ho optimism of William Bell's swaggering "Marching off to War" to the grim reality faced by the lonely characters in Zerben R Hicks' extraordinary "Lights Out", a melodramatic deep-soul tour de force ingeniously laced with military snare rolls and a Last Post trumpet. Many of these 24 songs gnaw away at worries of fidelity, both home and away - Gloria Edwards, in "Something You Couldn't Write About", memorably frets over "some slant-eyed woman" stealing her man's heart - but the real cost is counted later on, in the problems faced by the returning veterans of Curtis Mayfield's "Back to the World", Swamp Dogg's impassioned version of John Prine's heroin lament "Sam Stone", and Bill Withers' self-explanatory "I Can't Write Left Handed". As accurate and informative, in its own way, as any History Channel documentary.