Various Artists

Amazing Grace [Polygram]

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Compilation albums released on behalf of charitable causes can often seem to be just about a dime a dozen, with many suffering from a lack of new and/or interesting material. This is most certainly not the case with the Amazing Grace compilation, released to benefit the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer, and AIDS Research. The title track bookends the disc, with the first rendition performed by Ani DiFranco, who delivers a refreshingly laid-back and beautifully sensual version of what is too often delivered as an overwrought gospel number. Another version, performed by Daniel Lanois with vocals provided by Aaron Neville, finishes the disc nicely. The moody, haunting atmospherics built around subdued keys and Lanois' trademark jangly guitars expertly fit Neville's voice to the arrangement. The album does have its share of filler, with a few of Island's traditional catalog favorites like Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and PM Dawn's "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss," plus a couple of instrumentals tossed in for good measure. Balance between familiarity and repetition is achieved with the appearance of live versions of hit songs from well-known artists. Rarities like Jane Siberry's "Calling All Angels," Melissa Etheridge's "I Will Never Be the Same," and the Cranberries' "Dreaming My Dreams" all surface on this compilation. However, as live rarities go, the most spectacular treat about this disc is that it's the only officially released appearance of "One" as performed by Automatic Baby. The one-off band, comprised of Michael Stipe and Mike Mills from R.E.M. and Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. of U2 fame, came together for the gala thrown by MTV on the eve of the 1992 U.S. inauguration of then-President Bill Clinton. The band's name was provided by combining the names of the current releases from each band at the time -- U2's Achtung Baby and R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People. Though Stipe doesn't lend the same power or understanding to the song as exists in the original, and backing vocals provided by Mills add nothing new, it's still an intriguing version and a very necessary song to be coveted by any U2 or R.E.M. fan.

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