Various Artists

Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute To Cole Porter

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Cole Porter did not die of AIDS, but he is generally acknowledged to have been at least bisexual, which seems to be the justification for assembling an AIDS charity album in which contemporary artists perform songs he wrote in the 1920s, '30s, '40s, and '50s. Producer/creators Leigh Blake and John Carlin (along with Steve Lillywhite, credited as supervising musical producer, who produced several of the individual tracks) appear to have suggested to the artists that they simply take Porter's lead sheets and come up with arrangements and recordings in their own individual styles. Leading off the album, Neneh Cherry demonstrates how far that can be from traditional approaches to Porter's music. Her "I've Got U Under My Skin" begins with a rap about AIDS over a hip-hop arrangement, and it never uses much more of Porter's original music and lyrics than the title phrase. No wonder the album booklet makes a point of printing Porter's words to the songs as written, since in some cases that's the only place they can be found. Cherry's effort and the Jungle Brothers' similar take on "I Get a Kick Out of You" (here called "I Get a Kick") prove to be the most radical reinterpretations. And there are tracks in which the artists have taken the opposite tack, going for re-creations of styles from decades past. Sinéad O'Connor is accompanied by the Malcolm Griffiths Orchestra in a swinging performance of "You Do Something to Me" that Porter would have found familiar, and Lisa Stansfield also takes a retro approach in a horn-filled arrangement of "Down in the Depths," while Jody Watley's "After You, Who?" sounds like something a '50s nightclub singer might do, complete with strings. But most of the time, the artists just sound like themselves. Tom Waits' falsetto treatment of "It's All Right with Me" wouldn't sound out of place on his Swordfishtrombones album, for example, and David Byrne's "Don't Fence Me In," with its Latin percussion, could be on his Rei Momo. Sometimes, the artists' familiar styles play into emotional statements of the Porter lyrics, such as with Annie Lennox's torchy "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" and k.d. lang's moody "So in Love." Other times, especially in the cases of some of the dance-pop artists, the song-as-written is largely subsumed to the arrangement; Jimmy Somerville's "From This Moment On" at one point forgets it's based on a Porter song and borrows from Donna Summer's "I Feel Love." And then there are a few artists who clearly just wanted to have some fun, in particular the teaming of Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop on "Well, Did You Evah?," a song that previously provided comic opportunities to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Like most various-artists albums and most tribute albums, this one is wildly uneven; like most charity albums, it's in the service of a good cause.

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