Compilations, tribute albums, and charity albums usually all start with some grandiose idea: save the world, or at least someone’s legacy. Usually they end up butchering someone’s legacy or raising much less money than anyone thought possible.
Dark Was The Night, the latest compilation to scare the hell out of me before I listened to it —Yo La Tengo! The National! My Morning Jacket! It must be good!—is also the latest installment from the Red Hot Organization, a group dedicated to AIDS education since 1989.
The group has released 14 albums since then, including 1993’s epic No Alternative, which included tracks from Nirvana, Bob Mould of Husker Du, and a ridiculous Soul Asylum cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” Since the 1993 album, the albums—I admit, I’ve only heard a few of them—have been hit or miss, usually falling on miss.
But where Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove (Duncan Sheik! Sinead O’Connor! Ugh!) stumbles, Dark Was The Night soars.
The two-disc sets takes off with a David Byrne/ Dirty Projectors song, “Knotty Pine.” (No not a remake of the Gordon Lightfoot song, though I know that would enthrall one of my girlfriend’s friends.) The staccato-laced track serves as an upbeat intro, and David Byrne’s vocals mesh well with the sparse piano.
From there the first of two discs falls into chamber pop (which is fine with me), with tracks by Bon Iver, The National and The Decembrists, but not before a killer duet by Feist and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. A bare (in a good way) take on Vashti Bunyan’s “Train Song,” the song makes me wonder why these two haven’t done more collaborations before.
The second disc starts out strong with a Spoon track, but is mostly full of secondhand tracks by groups who should know better. Arcade Fire’s “Lenin” sounds rushed, and I think My Morning Jacket’s “El Caporal” may have been written while on the toilet.
Still, there are bright spots. The New Pornographers cover Destroyer’s “Hey, Snow White,” to great effect (wait, does it count as a cover if Dan Bejar is in both bands?), and Dave Sitek’s take on The Troggs' “With a Girl Like You,” complete with horns, brings the classic to a new level.
I highly recommend this album, even if you don’t know any on the artists involved.
There are worse ways you could spend $13.99, plus you get to support a good cause while you’re doing it. And for the cheapskates, it’s on sale at Best Buy this week for $11.99.