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MUSIC REVIEW

Bands For America

Compilation Features Jack Johnson, G. Love, O.A.R, and String Cheese Incident

Helana Kadyszewski

staff writer

If you’re still looking for a way to contribute to the September 11 relief effort, here’s one: Head over to Tower Records and check out the new Bands for America CD. All sales proceeds go directly to the United Way and September 11th Fund.

Why throw your money away on some cheesy tribute compilation? Well, because it’s not cheesy. Well, at least the cheese is mild. Bands for America (BFA) features 17 tracks from some of the newest, most popular acts in the college/roots rock scene. Best of all, more than a few of the featured artists will be making their way to venues in the northeast sometime soon, so if you like what you hear, you can go see them.

The first track is a lighthearted little ditty titled “Mud Football” from the debut album of ex-surfing sensation Jack Johnson (Brushfire Fairytales). If you sniff carefully, you can detect Ben Harper and G. Love influences in this track (Johnson produces Harper and has worked extensively with G. Love). Complete with a cow bell and clapping interlude, it’s an acoustic ode to the simple things in life: pickup trucks and football with the boys. Beyond the fact that it’s a great tune, Mud Football might have been chosen for the compilation for these lyrics: “We used to laugh a lot/But only because we thought/That everything good always would remain/Nothing’s gonna change there’s no need to complain.”

Another one of the bigger names on the album is jam band String Cheese Incident. The Colorado based outfit, which once raised over $20,000 for local Boulder County charities, has been using its music to unite audiences since 1993. Their contribution to the Bands For America album, “Inside or Outside,” is nothing special and is certain to leave a phishy taste in your mouth; Phishermen and Deadheads take note.

Then you have Of A Revolution, more commonly known as O.A.R. Take five buddies from Ohio State University, give them a few microphones, some guitars, an electric mandolin (just for kicks), and let them go at it. These guys have a low key and very distinctive sound. That is, you can spot an O.A.R. song miles away if you’ve heard them once. Their contribution track is from their latest album Risen, and is titled “Hold on True.” While it’s pretty representative of their choppy but still smooth style, they have done better. This one’s a bit mainstream and might work better as part of a Dawson’s Creek episode soundtrack than it does on the BFA Album. But then again, what is America about if not a bunch of buddies drinking beer and writing songs about nothing at the State University.

I’d heard of Dispatch before I listened to this album, but never heard any of their stuff. A three-man band, Dispatch plays all over the Northeast. My best attempt at a description of their tune “Passerby” is this: take Sting’s mystique, the lead guitar stylings of Dire Straits, a dash of Carlos Santana, and a few strips of beef jerky, throw all of that in a blender and purÉe it until smooth. I hear that this tune is a bit off-center from the rest of their repertoire, but go see them for yourself at Bentley College on Sunday Dec. 9. (Don’t ask me why this song is on the Bands for America compilation album).

Sonia Dada, out of Chicago brings us perhaps the first song on the album that makes sense. Titled “Ain’t Life for the Living,” this soulful celebration of life breathes touches of R&B, early blues, even a little of that 70s gospel funk. Even though the song is a bit too formulaic, it does leak a masterful musicianship that you can’t quite put your finger on. A little background check on these guys reveals their great range. I just may have to see them this Saturday at the Paradise Rock Club.

And what Sept. 11 tribute album would be complete without a tear jerking moneymaker like Cary Pierce’s “I believe in America?” This one’s been all over TV since the tragedy occurred. Perhaps President Bush and Tom Ridge collaborated with Pierce on the following lyrics: “And they tried to tear us down / As we watched the Towers fall / They thought they could take our pride” Little bit of well-intentioned cheese here, but okay, Cary.

The next few tracks, if anything, are a nothing-special celebration of quiet times, families, and friends. Graham Colton’s “Save Me” does nothing for me (though rumors are he’s good looking). He’ll have to work hard to distinguish himself from every other non-hardcore 20-something guy with a guitar. Another small-time band Virginia Coalition offers a sing-songy track titled “Lumeniferous Ether.” Domestic Problems and Strangefolk follow with their musical donations “James Francis” and “Go to a Show” respectively.

The CD goes cheese-free for pretty much the remainder with King Konga offering a spirited track Something Good that I swear was used on a Dr. Pepper commercial. Nevertheless, it has a lot of percussive pep, even if it’s the Huey Lewis kind. I get the feeling that their latest album, also titled “Something Good,” might be worth a look.

Lucky Town then brings the first feminine lead to the BFA album, as Courtney Criswell belts out “Dirty Shoes,” a track from L-Town’s latest release “Anyway I’m Fine.” The band, another out of Virginia, is building up quite the national fan base and MTV’s Road Rules has used a few of their songs.

Pepper’s Ghost (Beatles allusion intended) offers “Sad Sad Song” in the tradition of the Beatles and David Bowie, and reminds us that “it’s tough to sing a sad, sad, sad song.” Smartbomb and The Booda Velvets round out the Goo Goo Dolls/U2 portion of the album, with two solid tracks, and then comes my favorite.

“Wiseman,” brought to you by Slightly Stoopid, the house band of x-treme skateboard sports (These are the guys who rock out for ESPN-2 footage of the tumbles and terrors of aerialists and snowboarders). But this tune is not of the typical hardcore adrenaline pumping nature, instead it’s acoustic, and rather Marley-esque. Among Stoopid fans, if it’s not already, Wiseman will be in the weedsmoker’s karaoke top ten.

The last track on the album is an ode to the events of September 11th by Garrett Dutton of G. Love & the Special Sauce. Sorrowful lyrics about the events of the hijackings are set to the gentle pluckings of Dutton’s acoustic. Complete with harmonica interludes, “On 9.11.01” is akin to Dylan’s ballad about Rubin “the Hurricane” Carter.

Try BFA, you might like it. If you don’t, your patriotic Aunt Sallie might. Give it to her for Christmas. If she doesn’t like it, at least you know your $10 went towards a good cause.