Monday, November 2, 2009

Various Artists - Dark was the Night (LP, 4AD)

Charity albums are much like Christmas albums (don't get me started on the charity Christmas albums) - they start off with good intentions but end up as a collection of uninspired ideas. However noble the cause, it's unlikely that you will ever spin the album a second time.

Dark was the Night, however, is an album that you will keep coming back to. Featuring the who's who of artists on the alternative/folk-rock scene, the album is released by the Red Hot Organisation, to raise funds and awareness in the fight against AIDS. The album is curated by the National's Bryce and Aaron Dessner, and produced by Red Hot's John Carlin. Though the Carlin and the Dessners did not specify a particular theme, the album is surprisingly cohesive.

The triple LP of (mostly) original compositions opens with the whacky and upbeat "Knotty Pine", a collaborative effort from David Byrne and Dirty Projectors. Feist adeptly teams with Death Cab's Ben Gibbard on a cover of Vashti Bunyan's "Train Song" and later slow burns through the outstanding Grizzly Bear collaboration "Service Bell". Spoon provide a badly needed injection of rhythm on "Well Alright". We also get quality contributions from Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, New Pornographers, Yo La Tengo, Riceboy Sleeps, Iron & Wine, and Conor Oberst with Gillian Welch.

Standing out, however, are My Morning Jacket's laid-back "El Caporal" and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' Shuggie Otis cover "Inspiration Information". Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch adds lyrics to an old Scottish folk song, and the resulting "Another Saturday" is one more quiet triumph for him. Dave Sitek's version of the Troggs' "With a Girl Like You" also gets an honourable mention, as does the Books and José González doing a cover of Nick Drake's "Cello Song". Not to be outdone by their invitees, the National shout-out Pavement on the languid "So Far Around the Bend", recalling Pavement doing the same to one of their favorite bands (R.E.M.) on No Alternative.

Overall, the tracks combine to produce a collection which is eclectic and entertaining, without any of the throwaway b-sides that usually clutter compilation albums. The artists have clearly delivered their best work, and the fact that it's for a good cause doesn't hurt.

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