The Voice Project - Home Recordings Vol. 1
Record Label: Self-released (digital only)
Release Date: Jan. 22, 2013
There might be another disc released this month more transcendent that The Voice Project's Home Recordings Vol. 1, an 18-song compilation that features the likes of Peter Gabriel, Joseph Arthur, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Billy Bragg, Brett Dennen, and Angelique Kidjo, to name just a few. As the title indicates, all of the songs are recorded in a lo-fi setting and most feature background noises, including chirping birds and creaking furniture. While it's not a novel concept by any stretch, it's enchanting to hear such household names in such an organic way. That the disc is being used to fund FM radio peace broadcasts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is only more reason to give the album an hour of your time.
One of the disc's drawbacks is that because many of the recordings are lo-fi, many of the artists cannot project their voices or their instruments in a way that is ultimately very flattering. Of all the artists on the compilation, Priscillia Ahn seems to conquer this with her powerhouse version of Benji Hughes' "Masters in China," as does the inimitable Peter Gabriel with his piano-driven rendition of Tom Waits' "In the Neighborhood." On the contrary, Spirit Family Reunion seems a bit lost on Sonny and the Sunset's "Too Young to Burn," while Joseph Arthur's commendable version of Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey," sounds muddled in this kind of environment.
Chicago songwriter Tom Freund makes one of the largest statements with his gorgeous cover of Brett Dennen's "There Is So Much More," and the latter takes on Citizen Cope's "Healing Hands." Dennen is an artist who has won the favor of many, including but not limited to John Mayer and when one hears how dazzling "Healing Hands," is it is easy to see why. Perennial favorite Billy Bragg performs an admirable cover of Joanna Newsom's "On a Good Day," while REM's Mike Mills pays homage to Bragg with "Sing Their Souls Back Home." Being that the disc is indeed a benefit CD for an African nation it seems almost fitting that two of the disc's stronger efforts feature African musicians. Angelique Kidjo, who is from Benin, performs the much-ballyhooed "Soweto Blues," while The Gulu Window Choir backs up Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros on their ubiquitous single "Home."
Some less familiar, but equally spellbinding artists on the disc include the Chicago troubadour Joe Purdy diving headfirst into REM's "Swan Swan H," and despite the fact that he admits the song was recorded in one take, it feels like this is the kind of song Purdy has been working on for years. British wunderkind Gary Go takes a stab at Joseph Arthur's "Chicago," and while it starts off tepidly, Go finds a way to make it work, due in most part to his penetrating vocals. Los Angeles quartet The Submarines conquer The Beatles with "For No One." The Submarines' Blake Hazard has arguably sounded better but a ringing shaker and a well-placed xylophone make this homespun gem worth the four minutes.
While Joey Ryan's "Broken Headlights," is not terribly well known, Garrison Starr does her best to fix that and if last year's Amateur failed to get you on board with her music, then maybe this cover will change your mind. Long-time AP.net darling Cary Brothers duets with Laura Jansen on Ryan Adam's classic "Come Pick Me Up," and as one might expect, it's nothing short of perfect, if only for the fact that Jansen absolutely slays it. Cary Brothers' "Ghost Town," is performed by California duo The Milk Carton Kids and if the song serves as your first introduction to them as well, then this album has indeed done its due diligence.
If The Voice Project has one additional flaw it's that the Congalese group The Gulu Windows Choir is only given a twenty-five second snippet of their terrific cover of Joe Purdy's "Suitcase." Why exactly the producers of the disc chose to do this is anyone's guess, but that it is so brief is a tremendous disservice. That small gripe aside, The Voice Project is a tremendous disc and one that should definitely be added to your iTunes library.