Where We Live
A compilation of Various Artists
I’m not usually a fan of music made for occasions. And you’d think that a compilation of 16 artists lending their voices and instruments to Earthjustice, an organization devoted to “the universal right to clean air and clean water,” would drip drip drip with sanctimony. Or be slapdash, piecemeal, tossed off.
But no! Benefit album it may be, but Where We Live is full of musical delight, of pop performers finding the inner gospel singer who’s been struggling to get out all these years. For what we get is largely churchy in feel, but it’s been secularized in the smithy of the ecological soul.
There’s not really a bad turn on the CD, but a few tracks particularly stand out: Pop divas Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt collaborate on the Southern-gospelly It’s a Blessing; the still smouldering Tina Turner does a supercharged version of A Change Is Gonna Come (Robert Cray on guitar) which almost matches that of its great originator, Sam Cooke; Karen Savoca’s Two Little Feet is purringly innocent but sexy; Pop Staples takes the 1960s protest chestnut I Shall Not Be Moved and really makes you feel as if he is going to glory on the wings of his own perfect pitch and Ry Cooder’s slide guitar. Bob Dylan revives a 1971 tune that never should have died; Watching the River Flow must be about the Mississippi, for it has an infectious Professor Longhair New Orleans piano-roll .
Then there are Nora Jones’s sultry-sweet Peace, Los Lobos’s credibly passionate version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Willie Nelson’s laconically touching Living in the Promised Land and the Neville Brothers funkified chug-chug, Sister Rosa. Dan Zanes and Friends, with the help of Lou Reed (taking a walk on the sweet side), do a post-hippyish version of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World; Mose Allison gives us a jazz hipster Getting There; John Hammond (witnessed by Tom Waits) testifies that I Know I’ve Been There; the lovely harmonies of the activist group Sweet Honey in the Rock turns More Than a Paycheck into an environmental protest; Michael Franti and Spearhead offer a folk-reggae Yes I Will, while Ruben Blades’s Estampa lends a latinate stamp to the enterprise. As a truly weird coda, the one and only Captain Beefheart croaks out Happy Earthday.
This one warrants repeated listens and it’ll be a while before I automatically diss a project like this again.