Farm Aid

Farm Aid: Keep America Growing, Vol. 1

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This 25-track double disc effectively collects selections from 12 Farm Aid benefit concerts over a 15 year period from 1985-1999. There's a hefty selection from the organization's founders, with Willie Nelson (along with the Highwaymen), Neil Young, and John Mellencamp not surprisingly accounting for ten tracks. The rest is divvied up between a roster of country/roots artists that turn in workmanlike, but seldom revelatory performances of their hits, or near hits. It's tough to get excited hearing the Neville Brothers run through a by-the-numbers "Yellow Moon" or Willie Nelson sleepwalking through "City of New Orleans" for the umpteenth time, and even such luminaries as Los Lobos and Bonnie Raitt don't light any sparks. Only a few of the tracks like Neil Young and Crazy Horse lumbering through "Homegrown," Young's solo "Last of His Kind (The Farm Aid Song)," and Mellencamp's spirited "Rain on the Scarecrow" have even a vague connection to the plight of the American farmer, which is what the shows, the organization, and the proceeds of this disc go to benefit. The lack of sufficient annotation for each track is also problematic. The Beach Boys meander through an unspectacular version of "God Only Knows" from 1996, yet it isn't obvious who was in this version of the ever-changing group. Other than the star, individual credits for the bands are missing, which is a frustrating oversight. Some artists click with roughed-up versions of their tunes; Trisha Yearwood digs into "Wrong Side of Memphis" with a greasy charm at odds with her clean-cut image, and Susan Tedeschi tears through "It Hurt So Bad" leaving the album version in the dust. The tracks are seemingly chosen to not offend the Americana audience who the disc is obviously intended for, which makes for a pleasant flow, but omits more alternative artists like Iggy Pop and the Pretenders who also participated in various shows. And where's Bob Dylan who birthed the Farm Aid concept with his comments at Live Aid? Far from a failure, Farm Aid; Vol. 1 is a respectable but safe and ultimately disappointing overview of the show's history, which, since it generates money for its worthwhile cause, is still a valuable addition to your collection. One can't help but wonder how many great performances are still left in the vault, so hopefully future editions will dig a little deeper and present edgier acts with a more unique song selection.

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