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Michael Jefferson
5.11.09, 8:30 AM
http://rcm-images.amazon.com/images/P/B001QOOCTE.01.TZZZZZZZ.jpg (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/B001QOOCTE/w3pgcoffeeroomss)
Playing For Change
Various Artists (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/B001QOOCTE/w3pgcoffeeroomss)
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

"Playing for Change" is a multi-media movement created to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music. A heady notion to be sure, but the world music created by the more than 100 participants will indeed rock your world. Producer and Executive Director Mark Johnson enlisted the help of musicians from the U.S., South Africa, Europe and Asia to construct the 10 track CD, and filmed many of the principal players live, recording them on street corners, in parks, and even on fire escapes.

The eclectic collection of world rhythms opens with the umpteenth version of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." King's barking, melodramatic original was given the royal treatment with arcing (or was it aching?) strings. Frankly, I've never stood on the same emotional path that King's devotees have, so I've been at a loss to understand the song's attraction. John Lennon was my favorite Beatle, but I found his version hollow; he was just parroting Benny. Well, I've finally found a take that speaks to me on an emotional level. Since "Stand By Me" is an American pop classic, this rendition centers around a couple of street musicians based in the U.S. Roger Ridley's spoken intro let's you know his words come from his heart: "This song says no matter who you are, no matter where you go in your life, at some point in your life you're gonna need somebody to stand by you." Ridley, a bear of a man, sings the opening verse with the same gritty growl as Howlin' Wolf. As the second verse rolls around, New Orleans based bluesman Grandpa Elliot takes over. Elliot's delivery is a throwback to his peers from the Delta, circa Huddy Ledbetter. When Ridley and Elliot join together, it's like listening to a living chapter in the story of the blues; their styles may differ, but they blend together as if they've been sharing the same stage since birth. Give Mark Johnson a hand for a seamless editing job. The singers were thousands of miles apart when they were recorded.

Clarence Bekker of the Netherlands takes on the third verse. Bekker is a shouter, a modern day Wilson Pickett without the police blotter baggage with an abundance of oomph. "Stand By Me" begins to stagger a bit when the noticeable thunder of The Twin Eagle Drum Group sounds in the background. This is soul, guys, not a night at the sweat lodge. Other third world elements seem shoehorned in order for Johnson to justify his international roster. Dimitri Dolganov is certainly an accomplished cellist, but South African singer Vusi Mahlasela's brief tuneless cameo and the speaking in tongues contribution made by the Sinamuva singing group are incongruous and unnecessary. Ridley's performance stands alone, and "Stand By Me" rises of the strength of his stirring vocal.


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