Tuesday, January 26, 2010

4Troops: Band of brothers-in-arms

Somewhere, Irving Berlin is turning red, white and blue.

The spirit of the man who wrote God Bless America infuses a pair of patriotic albums due in 2010. 4Troops, a crooning quartet of former Army soldiers that includes a top-20 finisher on America's Got Talent, makes its debut today on Good Morning America. The single For Freedom lands in March, and a Sony Masterworks album arrives May 25.

Also this year, expect Coming Home, an album from a trio of active-duty military calling themselves The Soldiers. Atlantic Records put the group together after a similar project featuring British soldiers found success in the U.K. last fall.

"Bringing more awareness about our troops and their sacrifices is what we're all about," says 4Troops singer Meredith Melcher, 29, an Army captain who in 2003 served as a platoon leader in Iraq, where she helped evacuate wounded soldiers.

Melcher says she never had big singing ambitions and failed at an American Idoltryout a few years ago. "Nerves, I guess," she says.

Don't be fooled, says Victor Hurtado, the group's artistic director. "When Meredith opens her mouth, glory comes out," he says. "And sometimes a little bit of Aretha (Franklin)."

As the man who for decades has overseen the Army's entertainment division and traveling musical shows, Hurtado hand-picked the members of 4Troops, which also includes Daniels Jens, Ron Henry and David Clemo.

The idea came from Sony executives, who asked Hurtado to create an ensemble that could sing, tour and raise money for veterans groups. A percentage of proceeds benefit a range of charities, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Peter Ganbarg, vice president of artists and repertoire at Atlantic, says "the time just feels right for this sort of project. There's a sense of patriotism that's palpable right now." He says The Soldiers have been selected and will be revealed soon.

Meanwhile, 4Troops is busy recording its album in New York, working with producer Frank Fillipetti, whose credits range from Kiss to James Taylor. The fare is largely of the flag-waving variety, including Hurtado's updating of Toby Keith's post-9/11 Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.

The timing could be right, says Gail Mitchell, senior editor at Billboard. "The first lady has pledged to help raise awareness of the troops and their families, so this sort of thing could fit right in," she says. "The only question is with this narrow focus, where do you go from here?"

But this may be far enough for these former soldiers, who sound off in grateful tones.

"I grew up singing to the Jackson 5 and dreaming of this day," says Henry, 41, recently retired from the Army, where he was a transport manager in Iraq.

For Clemo, 30, it's an opportunity to work through difficult emotions. "The songs about saying goodbye and staying motivated so you get back alive really ring true," says Clemo, who laid fiber-optic cables in Iraq.

And as thrilled as Jens is to be in this group, the America's Got Talent Season 3 veteran recalls an even greater gig he played not long ago in a bare barrack in Iraq.

"My best memories were grabbing my guitar and singing," says Jens, 36, who was deployed to Iraq as a field artillery cannon crewmember. "My friends would join in. To see the war melt off their faces was surreal."

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