Putumayo can usually be counted on to come up with intriguing world music compilations, and Cover the World is especially intriguing. The focus of this 2003 release is world music interpretations of familiar rock, R&B, and pop hits, which receive unlikely yet successful makeovers. Imagine Senegal vocalist Touré Kunda turning Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" into African pop, or French rapper Yannick providing a pop-rap version of Frankie Valli's "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" -- well, those things really do occur on this collection of '90s and early 2000s recordings. In some cases, the songs are altered rhythmically more than lyrically; Ladysmith Black Mambazo's remake of the Impressions' "People Get Ready" (which features the talented but underexposed American singer Phoebe Snow) contains the original English lyrics. But quite often, songs that were written in English are translated into other languages. Spanish singer Albert Plá provides new Spanish lyrics for his flamenco-influenced spin on Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," and the Okinawan female vocal quartet Nenes offers new Japanese lyrics on Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry." Some reggae fans might have a hard time imagining "No Woman, No Cry" performed in Japanese, but in fact, the song works surprisingly well for Nenes. And Ray Charles fans might find it hard to believe that "Hit the Road, Jack" could work as Brazilian pop, but a samba makeover is exactly what Charles' 1961 hit receives from the German group Mo' Horizons (who feature Brazilian singer Leila Pantel). If you're going to embrace a well-known song that someone else has defined, it's best to try something different -- and the artists do exactly that on this excellent compilation.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson