Soldiers Inspires Country Writers, Artists

Carolyn Dawn Johnson , Montgomery Gentry and Rascal Flatts are among country artists who appear on a new collection of songs inspired by the forthcoming Vietnam War-era movie We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson.

Side by side with recordings by Dave Matthews and Johnny Cash , Train and India.Arie are tracks from Jamie O’Neal (in a duet with Michael McDonald), Mary Chapin Carpenter and Tammy Cochran .

All of the music on the compilation is new. Most of it was composed by writers after viewing the film. Two original hymns, “Sgt. MacKenzie” and “The Mansions of the Lord (Suite)” were written for the movie itself. Music From and Inspired by We Were Soldiers comes out Feb. 26. The movie itself hits theaters on March 1.

We Were Soldiers is based on a best-selling book by Lt. Col. Hal Moore, played by Gibson. The film is written, directed and co-produced by Randall Wallace (Braveheart).

“It’s one of those films that you see, and you’re left with an impression in your mind,” says Ken Levitan, whose company, Combustion Music, will release the soundtrack in partnership with Columbia Records and Sony Music Soundtrax. Levitan, Wallace and Chris Farren are co-producers of the compilation.

“It’s so powerful,” Levitan says of the film, “that Randall Wallace and Michael Lustig [from Gibson’s Icon Productions] thought they would love to do an inspired-by record. We started showing [the film] around to songwriters and artists, and it got an amazing response. People were just so moved by the movie.”

Montgomery Gentry do a song titled “Didn’t I,” written by Anthony Smith, co-writer of George Strait ’s recent hit, “Run.” O’Neal and McDonald turned in a “very, very soulful” tune titled “Not So Distant Day,” co-written by Marcus Hummon (“Ready to Run,” “Born to Fly”) with young writers Caleb and Nathan Followill.

“We got hundreds and hundreds of songs,” Levitan marvels. “The Nashville songwriting community was amazing.”

Rascal Flatts’ lead vocalist Gary LeVox “does an amazing vocal performance,” Levitan says, on a gospel song, “The Glory of Life,” originally composed with CeCe Winans in mind by “This Kiss” writers Beth Nielsen Chapman and Annie Roboff with Farren.

Johnson’s contribution is “Some Mother’s Son,” co-written by L.A.-based Maribeth Derry (“I Can Love You Like That”) and Nashville’s Tommy Lee James (“And Still,” “If You See Him”). Levitan describes the song as a “beautiful, haunting ballad.”

Matthews was part of a tribute concert honoring Cash, staged in New York in 1999. With Emmylou Harris he performed “Long Black Veil.” The concert aired later on cable channel TNT. Levitan, who manages Harris, was at the concert.

“We found this song [“For You”] that Paul Brandt [“I Do”] wrote after the movie, and we sent it to [Cash and Matthews],” Levitan relates. “Johnny cut his portion with his son [John Carter Cash] in Jamaica. Then we sent it out to Dave in a studio in California.”

Carpenter does “My Dear Old Friend,” a song by Patty Griffin.

Initially, producers urged the artists to take an organic, roots-oriented approach to the tracks for the album. Working with producers of their own choosing, however, the recordings went in several different directions.

“The mood of the record changes,” Levitan says. “We wanted it to be very organic and from the heart. As it got produced, there were certain things that were more ‘produced’ than others.”

The track listing, in sequence is as follows:

1. “For You,” Johnny Cash and Dave Matthews
2. “Some Mother’s Son,” Carolyn Dawn Johnson
3. “Fall Out,” Train
4. “Soldier,” Steven Curtis Chapman
5. “Good Man,” India.Arie
6. “The Beautiful,” Five for Fighting
7. “My Dear Old Friend,” Mary Chapin Carpenter
8. “I Believe,” Tammy Cochran
9. “The Widowing Field,” Jars of Clay
10. “Not So Distant Day,” Jamie O’Neal & Michael McDonald
11. “Didn’t I,” Montgomery Gentry
12. “The Glory of Life,” Rascal Flatts
13. “Sgt. MacKenzie,” Joseph Kilna MacKenzie
14. “The Mansions of the Lord (Suite),” U.S. Military Academy Glee Club and Metro Voices

View the We Were Soldiers trailer.