Various Artists | Graciously, A Gulf Relief Compilation (Funzalo)

Like tribute discs, of course, benefit discs instantly spark suspicion; purity of motivation scarcely necessitates preeminence of music—the road to hell, et cetera.

After Hurricane Katrina and the Bush regime conspired to turn much of the Gulf Coast into a monstrous aquarium, support of all sorts—a verb like this seems inescapable—poured into the region. That support continues with Graciously, A Gulf Relief Compilation, a 12-track, multiple-artist CD recorded at Tucson’s famed Wavelab Studio, from which a third of the net proceeds will fund the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity Musicians’ Village project.

Like tribute discs, of course, benefit discs instantly spark suspicion; purity of motivation scarcely necessitates preeminence of music—the road to hell, et cetera. Happily, the good intentions inspiring this Funzalo Records release lead not to the infernal regions but to some fairly enjoyable listening.

A fence-sitter of an assessment, that. Contributions from Calexico, John Doe with Virgil Shaw, Robyn Hitchcock, and Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3 all bolster the CD’s sonic gravitas without (alas) producing tracks that transcend basal craftsmanship; gravitas alone does not a groove define. Moreover, Nik Freitas’s “Picture Song” sprawls markedly—although not without merit, it wants judicious tightening—and on “The Gits,” the nasal quaver of Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin prompts little enthusiasm.

That said, before closing with a sweetly dreamy instrumental rendition of “Moon River” from Friends of Dean Martinez, Graciously features various felicities. Luca’s “Shadow Painting” manages the neat trick of sounding at once bleak (“Politics means nothin’ when you’re lyin’ in the grave”) and boisterous, while Amelia White stages an aural parade with the spellbinding “Skeleton Key.” The disc’s most noteworthy track, though, comes from Howe Gelb with Scout Niblett; they perform a four-song medley beginning with “I Want Candy,” an echoic, ebullient effort that should have folks boogying throughout the Big Easy, and everywhere else.

 


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