Dark Was the Night
Various artists – 2xCD
It’s hard to believe that this is the twentieth installment in Red Hot’s benefit compilation series to raise funds for and awareness of people with HIV/AIDS; how time flies and, regrettably, illnesses stubbornly persist. While the Red Hot series has often mustered star-power, it has never been this consistent in its musical inspiration. This is certainly in part due to excellent curating by the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner. Dark was the Night features two discs of recordings by indie’s finest, including imaginative covers and special collaborations.
David Byrne and the Dirty Projectors, are lovably quirky and rhythmically buoyant on “Knotty Pine.” Kronos Quartet provides an instrumental rendering of the Blind Willie Johnson song that is the collection’s namesake; the unusual juxtaposition of blues and string quartet indicative of the imaginative pairings found throughout. Books and José Gonzalez deliver a multilayered rendition of Nick Drake’s “The Cello Song.” Antony Hegarty and Bryce Dessner supply a touching, homespun version of Bob Dylan’s “I was Young When I left Home.”
There are very few people I’d prefer to hear singing Vashti Bunyan than Vashti herself, but Feist and Ben Gibbard create a cozily atmospheric version of “Train Song.” Beirut continues its lustrously sung love-letter to France with “Mimizan.” Stuart Murdoch sans Belle and Sebastian is still endearing – lopsided, lyrical, and sweet-voiced – on “Another Saturday.
And this is hardly the half of it. Dark was the Night is mandatory listening – how often do you hear that about a benefit CD?