While overshadowed by the one-two punch of Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison was not only an integral part of the Beatles, but an accomplished solo artist who arguably outpaced his bandmates in the quality and breadth of his post-Fab Four work. After Harrison's death from brain cancer in November of 2001, a tribute to "the quiet Beatle" and his music was inevitable. Songs From the Material World: A Tribute to George Harrison, released in March of 2003, finds Harrison contemporaries like Bill Wyman, John Entwistle, and Dave Davies contributing effective, if not particularly memorable versions of Harrison's words and music. His significant contributions to the Beatles catalog are represented -- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Taxman," "Here Comes the Sun" -- as are highlights from his solo career, including "Devil's Radio" (from Cloud Nine), "Isn't It a Pity," and "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)." While performances on the album are generally good, the collection suffers a bit from the pacing issues that plague so many multi-artist compilations. For example, Big Head Todd & the Monsters' haunting take on "Within You, Without You" is followed by a sly, cheeky "Savoy Truffle" from They Might Be Giants. Both groups' versions are respectful without being trite, and innovative without losing the spark of the source material. But their collective effect is diminished by faulty sequencing. Other performances on Material World are worth noting. Not surprisingly, Todd Rundgren effortlessly replicates the grandeur of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and the MC5's Wayne Kramer captures perfectly the droning, trippy vibe of "It's All Too Much." The album concludes with Jay Bennett and Edward Burch's "Isn't It a Pity," the chorus of which seems like a gentle, but firm reminder from Harrison himself that it's better to give than to receive. To that end, a portion of Material World's profits are earmarked for the Material World Charitable Foundation, created in 1973 to sponsor diverse forms of artistic expression and the exploration of alternative life views and philosophies. Material World will no doubt be of value to collectors interested in the alternate versions of Harrison classics; for the rest, it's a musical document of the principles by which Harrison lived his life.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus