Friday, March 20, 2009

Various: Dark Was the Night

Artist: Various
Album: Dark Was the Night
Released: 2009
Genre: indie rock
Rating: 8.6

Review: Dark Was the Night is the 20th compilation release benefiting the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS. It features exclusive recordings by a number of indie artists and is produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National (who also have a track on the album: "So Far Around the Bend" which they do with Nico Muhly). John Carlin, the founder of the Red Hot Organization, was the executive producer. The title is derived from the Blind Willie Johnson song "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," which is covered on this collection by the Kronos Quartet.

This year's compilation features a stunning lineup, a list that includes -- okay, get ready for this -- Arcade Fire, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, The New Pornographers, David Byrne, Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, Antony Hegarty, The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, My Morning Jacket, Blonde Redhead and many, many more. It's a Pitchfork/All Songs Considered/indie-junky's dream come true.

And the tracks are solid. They're not all winners (I could have certainly done without Cat Power's rendition of "Amazing Grace"), nor is the track order to my liking. But the songs are hardly throw-aways and many would stand reasonable well alongside regular album tracks.

Some standout tracks for me include Sufjan Stevens's epic "You Are the Blood," (Sufjan's not so subtle way of saying 'B-side my ass') and the delicious duet between Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch (whoa -- what a perfect match-up). Other favorites of mine include the Yeasayer's "Tightrope," Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings doing "Inspiration Information," and the New Pornographers covering Destroyer's "Hey, Snow White."

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