Playing for Change is producer Mark Johnson's multimedia project intending to tie the world together via music. Johnson traveled the globe between 2004 and 2008, finding musicians in every corner of the world, from African villages to the streets of Santa Monica, then recorded them, usually singing American rock and pop classics, for this 2009 charity album. Many of the ten songs here are quite familiar -- Ben E. King's "Stand by Me," Peter Gabriel's "Biko," Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' Bout a Revolution," U2's "Love Rescue Me," Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," and Bob Marley's "One Love" and "No More Trouble" -- and even if the arrangements aren't necessarily faithful, they are familiar, blending in elements of blues, gospel, folk, reggae, and African music that's eclectic but not exotic. That familiarity isn't just due to the heavy presence of blues singer Keb' Mo' -- who sings on three tracks here -- and Bono's cameo, but also how Johnson's discovery Roger Ridley is essentially a soul singer in the vein of Ted Hawkins and how all the material, even Pierre Minetti's written-to-order "Don't Worry," is presented in the form of Western pop music. This does help give Playing for Change a broad potential audience, one that might find itself introduced to new rhythms, harmonies, and textures thanks to this good-hearted project.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2