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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Playing For Change - Playing For Change Live

Playing For Change - Playing For Change Live
2010, Concord Records

You have to strike while the iron is hot, as the old expression goes. Concord Records drops the fourth Playing For Change release in the past 14 months on June 15, 2010 with Playing For Change Live, a CD/DVD combo. This collaboration of New Orleans buskers and world renowned session players (with occasional guest appearances from the likes of Keb Mo') offers classic Americana and blues as well as the occasional classic R&B and soul on stage. Playing For Change isn't exactly a flavor of the month; these guys can flat out play, but Playing For Change Live begins to border on overkill.

Playing For Change Live opens with a rousing version of "Fannie Mae", driven by a classic R&B backbeat and some seriously dynamic vocal performances. "Don't Worry" has a gospel feel and a reggae beat; a feel good tune with secular spiritual undertones. "I’ve Got Dreams To Remember" is full of sorrow and hope and a heart-rending vocal line; but the breakdown at about three-and-a-half minutes thoroughly destroys the rhythm of the song. The band picks things up and put it back together, but the flow is lost. Playing For Change marries a northern African style to a funk groove on "Fela Ngaye", an entertaining and danceable tune that's worth checking out, but by now there is a lack of cohesion of direction on the album. For a live performance there's no real flow; it's more a compilation of songs played live, but the band is traveling willy-nilly through a songbook that's drawn from all compass points.

"Love Is My Religion" is an easy-going reggae tune that's a fun listen; a pleasant turn that underscores the lack of direction in the performance. Likewise, Playing For Change's cover of Bob Marley's "One Love" is enjoyable, but remarkably tame for a band that made it because of the vitality and personality of their individual performances. It's as if the action of time together and the influx of polished industry influence has taken some of the time out of Playing For Change. The band closes out with the song that started it all, Ben E. King's "Stand By Me". It's a solid performance and the expected closer.

Like most great ideas, Playing For Change started out with the vitality of something new, and like most great ideas the magic of the moment of discovery fades with time. Playing For Change offers up solid performances in Playing For Change Live, but the newness is gone. This isn't so much a comment on the phenomena of the band but the band itself. There are still flashes of the gritty, down-home persona that Playing For Change projected in both the original documentary and subsequent debut album, but it's mostly been replaced by the polish of production and the influence of too many individuals who now how to make an album but not how to preserve the music. If you're a fan of Playing For Change then this album is an enjoyable listen, but far from indispensable. The change has come.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Playing For Change at or Playing For Change Live drops on June 15, 2010. You can order the CD/DVD combo from Amazon.

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