Musically speaking, this type of project is fraught with danger. Whenever an album is put together in the service of a cause -- especially one as urgently important as a well-creation program in Malawi -- two things are almost inevitable: first, musical quality will take a back seat to the emotional appeal (because after all, what's musical quality when compared to a life-and-death struggle for water?), and second, at least half of the contributing artists will somehow end up singing mawkishly about themselves and their own global sensitivity (remember "We Are the World"?). Wells for Zoë -- Water for Life manages to avoid both pitfalls by a couple of ingenious stratagems. The first is by being mostly a compilation of previously released material bound together by themes related to water and wells: thus, flutist Michael McGoldrick contributes a recording of his original composition "Watermans," Crooked Still contributes a song called "Wading Deep Waters," and Eamonn Coyne and Kris Drever bring the "Lakeside Barndances" set from their Honk Toot Suite album. The new recordings featured here avoid bathos by employing sly humor: Maura O'Connell and the Duhks team up on a roof-raising version of "Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves," and the Sinéad O'Connor/Liam Ó Maonlaí collaboration "Baby, Let Me Buy You a Drink" (though much less energetic) is also cute -- though it must be said that O'Connor's voice has seen better days. Heidi Talbot's rendition of the gorgeous Boo Hewerdine song "Muddy Water" is perhaps the album's high point, though the Alison Brown Quartet's joyously swinging "Wonderful Sea Voyage (Of Holy St. Brendan)" is a gem as well. Overall, this ends up being an album that is worthy on its own merits as well as being a worthy contribution to an important cause.
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AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson