Various Artists | Rock for Relief (Zoë)

Someone didn’t get the memo. Eight of the album’s 12 tracks are previously available album cuts, one of which dates back all the way to 1997.

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What an odd little album. As the tray card states, this album is “for those hurt by natural disasters, inspired by the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina,” with proceeds from the album benefiting the disaster relief organization Mercy Corps. Under normal circumstances, this would mean that the compilation’s producers would gather together a smattering of new tracks, live recordings, and hard-to-find b-sides.

Someone didn’t get the memo. Eight of the album’s 12 tracks are previously available album cuts, one of which dates back all the way to 1997. The artists chosen for the album don’t gel very well either, being evenly split between radio-friendly adult contemporary singer-songwriters and college rock bands for the Dave Matthews crowd. One notable exception is the unremarkable hip-hop track “Hurricane Waters” from Citizen Cope, which sticks out like a sore thumb on the mostly acoustic guitar-based album.

While not necessarily the collector’s treasure trove one hopes for in a benefit album, there are still some fine songs present. The biggest names on the record—Jack Johnson, Howie Day, and Matt Nathanson—all contribute new live versions of previously available songs, the tender solo acoustic take on Day’s hit single “Collide” a particular highlight. Boston folk-rockers Guster turn in an above-average rarity, the sunny “Say That to My Face,” a castoff from 2003’s Keep It Together that was originally available on the rare fan compilation Pasty Tapes Vol. II. O.A.R. and Dispatch both turn in excellent songs, but they are, unfortunately, album tracks quite available elsewhere, and it’s a shame that these bands—each huge in jam band circles for their live shows—didn’t at least contribute new concert takes on their well-known songs.

The rest of the album is a hodge-podge of mostly unknown singer-songwriters that coast by without making much of an impact. “My God” by Louisiana native Marc Broussard—the only musician present from the areas affected by Katrina—does bring some fire to the proceedings, but in a studio version rather than the live version from Broussard’s own Katrina benefit CD. Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers’ contribution “Flower in the Rain” edges out some of its competition in terms of memorability, but only due to sounding like it was snatched from Ryan Adams’ cutting room floor.

Rock for Relief is certainly for a good cause, but listeners might be better off writing a check straight to Mercy Corps rather than investing in this pleasant but ultimately unessential compilation.


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