Various ‘Playing For Change: Songs Around The World’ CD/DVD (Concord) 3/5

playing-for-changeAn interesting musical concept that is as much a visual as an audio experience and one where the message behind probably far outweighs the musical content itself. This is a concept album in the truest sense of the word and the brainchild of music engineer Mark Johnson who has spent ten years putting this project together. Was it worth all the effort? The answer is a qualified yes, but with some reservations. From a technical perspective the result is a feat of no little skill and the ethos behind the project is certainly a laudable one. The power of music to enact change and reach people directly is a key message and one that few would disagree with in these times of major political and technological change. 
However, covering well-known songs with a variety of largely unknown acts (with notable exceptions such as Bono and Keb Mo)was always likely to be a risky enterprise and one wonders how far this project will reach beyond Europe and the United States, preaching to a largely already committed public. The album works best on the DVD where a multitude of world roots instruments are deployed to accompany vocals songs such as Bob Marley’s ‘War’ and ‘One Love’. Community youth choirs from a far afield as Omagh in Northern Ireland and the Group Afro Fiesta from South Africa are seamlessly woven together along with individual instrumentalists from the Indian sub-continent and even a band from New Orleans. The problem lies in that the overall musical accomplishment is a fairly mundane version of songs that have been covered on numerous occasions previously and far more convincingly by individual artists. Consequently this writer scores two points for the musical content and four for the visual impact and logic behind the project. Perhaps for the future a more challenging selection of songs would enhance matters. Nonetheless this album may inspire other artists and is at least to be commended for introducing a wider public to relatively unrecognised musicians.

Tim Stenhouse