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Published: 2011/12/07
by Ron Hart

Various Artists
East of Underground: Hell Below

Stones Throw

From the years 1980 to 2001, “Be All You Can Be” was the popular recruiting slogan for the United States Army. And for a mysterious posse of soldiers stationed in the territory formerly called West Germany as the long national nightmare of the Vietnam War drew to a close, the desire to make music in spite of being stuck on a foreign base thousands of miles from home inspired them to take heed to that famous credo and form bands of their own.

These established acts—East of Underground, The Black Seeds and The Sound Trek—offered up a unique inside reflection into the sounds fueling the hearts and minds of the men cast beneath the shadow of an unpopular and controversial war, building up morale amongst their fellow troops by competing in and winning Army-sponsored Battles of the Bands and touring various American bases across Europe, delivering electrifying sets loaded with some of the most poignant and popular soul, funk and rock nuggets of the day ranging from Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, Sly and the Family Stone, The Beatles, Santana, Carole King, Neil Young, The O’Jays and Bill Withers among others. The three groups saw their collective success within the infrastructure of the Armed Forces score them some studio time, where they each recorded a full-length LP apiece that were then utilized as tools for recruitment by the Service.

Now, after decades of ultra rare vinyl copies being passed around clandestine crate digging circles the world over, this trilogy of government sanctioned groove is made available once again on a more widespread level courtesy of Stones Throw Records’ archival subsidiary Now-Again. Presented in a beautiful lift-top box, each of these albums are perfectly reproduced facsimiles of the original Army issue and supplemented with a full-color booklet containing essays, documents, fanfare and photos from the sessions recently discovered in a box at the New York Public Library.

East of Underground: Hell Below recalls a space in time when the United States Armed Forces got hip by allowing some of their soldiers let off steam by playing songs that questioned authority within the infrastructure of the hornet’s nest itself.

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