Various Artists

The Imus Ranch Record II

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For those who didn't catch the first volume of The Imus Ranch Record, here's a brief history: radio personality Don Imus and wife Diedre run a huge charity ranch for children plagued with cancer or severe blood disorders, and the surviving siblings of children who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Kids get to take part in the full range of activities that go with running a 4,000-plus acre working cattle ranch that is completely environmentally pure and vegan. And the kids go for free. The Imus Ranch Record is one of the fund-raising activities for the charity. The makeup of this second volume pretty much follows the format of the first: Imus picks songs for some of his favorite artists to cover; he was able to get labels to license him a few songs as well. Musically, these sounds all come from American roots. The good tracks far outnumber the slightly substandard, making this volume better than its predecessor. Levon Helm and Delbert McClinton appeared (separately) on the first volume and they're back here. Helm and band cover Bob Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" in deep blues fashion, and McClinton's "Lone Star Blues" is here courtesy of the Room to Breathe album. Other highlights start with the country rebel Jamey Johnson's set-opening steel guitar-saturated read of Meat Loaf's "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," done without a hint of irony; it has been reinvented as a modern honky tonk classic guaranteed to make you cry in your beer. Outsider songwriter Hayes Carll delivers a delightful shambolic version of Roger Miller's "King of the Road," and Sam Moore (of legendary soul duo Sam & Dave) turns Jennifer Kimball and Paul Davis' "Bop" into a genuine R&B finger-popper that will make you forget the original. The Blind Boys of Alabama lay down an excellent "You Can't Be a Beacon If Your Light Don't Shine." Adam Duritz's version of Warren Zevon's "Carmelita" is reprised from the I-10 Chronicles compilation. Elizabeth Cook's ballad "You Move Too Fast" (the only self-written song here) and Cheap Trick's version of "Don't Be Cruel" are here, too. As a various-artists comp, this set works well (mostly) -- and the cause is indeed a worthy one.

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