Various Artists Instant Karma: Amnesty International's Campaign To Save Darfur Warner Bros.
Humanitarian efforts have long been an element of popular music. Band Aid, Farm Aid and a plethora of relief concerts have shown the compassionate side of artists. Now, a host of performers have come together to raise money to benefit the people of Darfur. Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign To Save Darfur is a two-disc set featuring the music of John Lennon.
After the breakup of the Beatles, Lennon embarked on a solo career that included many songs that address the human condition. These songs were chosen by Amnesty International to inspire a new generation of activists to stand up for human rights. A note on the back cover points to the ongoing conflict in Darfur, Sudan, which has led to some of the worst human rights abuses yet recorded.
The first disc begins with "Instant Karma, performed by U2. It's not as dynamic as the original, as Bono and the gang take an easygoing approach. Still, it's such a good song that one would really have to go out of one's way to mess it up. R.E.M. follows with a largely faithful presentation of "#9 Dream. Aerosmith featuring Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars perform a delightful hybrid of rock and reggae with "Give Peace A Chance. It doesn't quite capture the emotion of Lennon's recording, but it's enjoyable enough.
One of the more impressive offerings is "Whatever Gets You Through the Night, performed by Los Lonely Boys. With drum and guitar play reminiscent of the group's own "How Far Is Heaven? they do more than hold their own on this track, originally recorded as a duet between Lennon and Elton John. Corinne Bailey Rae, accompanied only by a keyboard for the most part, delivers a soulful performance on the melancholy "I'm Losing You. Background strings add a nice touch to Avril Lavigne's straightforward performance "Imagine, one of two songs that are performed by other artists on the second disc. Lavigne is admirable if not exceptional. Senegalese singer and percussionist Youssou N'Dour closes this set with "Jealous Guy.
Green Day sets the tone early on the second disc with "Working Class Hero, an attention-getting anthem about alienation, class and social status. The group, more so than most of the artists in this project, puts its own stamp on the song. After the Black Eyed Peas' blandby comparisonrendition of "Power To The People, Jack Johnson comes through with another take on "Imagine. Lavigne's vocal does the song more justice, but Johnson's acoustic guitar is a nice touch. The absence of the standard piano accompaniment also helps this one stand out.
Ben Harper brings a very charming touch to "Beautiful Boy. A beautiful song in its own right, Harper does an exceptional job, aided by subtle backgrounds including an elegant string arrangement. Matisyahu, known for blending traditional Jewish themes with reggae, rock and even rap, brings some of that experience into "Watching The Wheels, Lennon's playful tribute to slackers. Though not as impressive as Los Lonely Boys, Green Day or Harper, Matisyahu's presentation is better than most.
The spacey sound effects and over-enunciation of words that end with "r aren't enough to keep The Flaming Lips' rendition of "(Just Like) Starting Over from sounding depressingly subdued. It's listenable, but lacks the warmth of the original. Regina Spektor ends the collection with a lovely performance of "Real Love.
For the project, the artists were invited to select their favorite Lennon songs. Proceeds from sales are to benefit Amnesty International's work in Darfur and other humanitarian efforts around the world. In addition to the two CDs, 12 other tracks are available exclusively for download via iTunes. While some tracks aren't very strong, most are pretty good. The whole of Instant Karma is greater than the sum of its parts.
Visit Instant Karma on the web.
Tracks: CD1: Instant Karma; #9 Dream; Mother; Give Peace A Chance; Cold Turkey; Whatever Gets You Through The Night; I'm Losing You; Gimme Some Truth; Oh, My Love; Imagine; Nobody Told Me; Jealous Guy. CD2: Working Class Hero; Power To The People; Imagine; Beautiful Boy; Isolation; Watching The Wheels; Grow Old With Me; Gimme Some Truth; (Just Like) Starting Over; God; Real Love.
Personnel: U2 (CD1#1); R.E.M. (CD1#2); Christina Aguilera (CD1#3); Aerosmith featuring Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars (CD1#4); Lenny Kravitz (CD1#5); Los Lonely Boys (CD1#6); Corinna Bailey Rae (CD1#7); Jakob Dylan featuring Dhani Harrison (CD1#8); Jackson Brown (CD1#9); Avril Lavigne (CD1#10); Big & Rich (CD1#11); Youssou N'Dour (CD1#12); Green Day (CD2#1); Black Eyed Peas (CD2#2); Jack Johnson (CD2#3); Ben Harper (CD2#4); Snow Patrol (CD2#5); Matisyahu (CD2#6); Postal Service (CD2#7); Jaguares (CD2#8); The Flaming Lips (CD2#9); Jack's Mannequin featuring Mick Fleetwood (CD2#10); Regina Spektor (CD2#11).