Various Artists

Not Alone - Medicins Sans Frontieres

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Now this is an unwieldy yet treasure of a thing to be sure. Not Alone -- Medicins Sans Frontieres is a very economically priced, five-CD box set by a loose-knit group of artists under the umbrella "Musicians Sans Frontieres" to benefit the medical association known internationally as Doctors Without Borders. Assembled by Current 93's David Tibet and Jnana/Durtro's Mark Logan, it collects 86 cuts (mostly unknown or new) by 75 artists, many of whom one would never expect to be on a compilation project together. "We Are the World" this ain't. The sequencing must have been a nightmare, but for the most part it flows beautifully. Disc one puts together Durtro artists such as Baby Dee, John Contreras, Little Annie with Fürsaxa, Allen Ginsberg(!), Devendra Banhart, Keiji Haino, Matmos and Howie B, just to name a few. The reading of Gram Parsons' "A Song for You," taken from one of the soundchecks from their live album, is a box set highlight and a shining star on this inaugural platter. It's understated, raw, and deeply emotive. Likewise, Baby Dee's "When You Found Me" is a shatteringly beautiful redemptive song that could have come directly from the English-ballad-fakebook-meets-Harry Nilsson -- when he's not busllsh*tting -- and Tiny Tim. Fans of Antony and the Johnsons (who are also on the set) would be well-advised to check this out. There are other moods here, too, such as Haino's "fleeting panic-stricken shriveled equal temperament," a wildish noise scree populated by electronics, unidentifiable instruments and a flute. Disc two includes pieces Japanese improv mystic L, Six Organs of Admittance, Pantaleimon, Aube, Richard Buckner, Vashti Bunyan (an original home demo), Japanese psych rockers Suishou No Fune, Jarboe, Edward Ka-Spel, Larsen, Thighpaulsandra, and Dolly Collins, among others. It starts to really get weird on the third CD. Alexander Neilson and Richard Youngs appear together, Teenage Fanclub is here, as are Charlemagne Palestine, the Bevis Frond, Faun Fables, Isobel Campbell, Jad Fair, and Antony and the Johnsons, all of whom are highlights. But let it be said that nothing here, absolutely nothing, feels like filler, nothing feels tossed off or haphazard. Logan's aesthetic sense is not only keen, but spot-on. He's worked hard not to place things together by genre or subgenre, but sonically. This will be immediately evident should the listener drop all five discs in a CD player and hit random play. Disc four collects Max Richter, Current 93, Pearls Before Swine (a radio broadcast from 1972), Thurston Moore, Bill Fay, Marissa Nadler, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and Clodagh Simonds; the mood is a bit folksier here, but it is all of a piece, where sonics, lyric concerns and approaches differ widely. The final selection places Marc Almond and Simon Finn on tracks one and two! Jim O'Rourke is here as are Coil, Shock Headed Peters, John Maslen, Small Creatures, and the collection is taken out by Japan's psych-folk rockers Ghost recorded live in Los Angeles in 2004. Along with the five discs and a nice slipcase box, there is a handsome booklet that contains no photos, but a short essay by Logan on how the project came together, his own attitude while assembling it, and complete track information, including when cuts were previously released and where they came from (again, there are surprisingly few, no more than one or two per disc, and even these will be hard to come by for the most part). Perhaps it should also be noted that the complete proceeds from the sale of this box set go to Doctors Without Frontiers. It can be ordered directly from Jnana for $25 plus shipping from www.jnanarecords.com.

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