The fascinating, and moving, concept behind Give Us Your Poor differs from previous fundraising, conscious-awareness efforts, in that established musicians are teamed with talented people who have been, or are currently, homeless. So Jon Bon Jovi backs blues singer Mighty Sam McClain (once indigent but thankfully no longer) on the brass-band gospel of “Show Me The Way”; Keb’ Mo’ duets with Eagle Park Slim on the acoustic blues “Baby Don’t Let Me Go Homeless”; and John Sebastian supplies support on harmonica for Del Goldfard on “Portable Man.”
The program of mostly unreleased tracks opens with an eye-opening audio montage of homeless victims talking about their plight over a simple jazz/gospel groove. But perhaps the most moving tracks are “Boll Weevil,” with fingerpicker Dan Zanes dueting with 11-year-old Kyla Middleton, and “There Is No Good Reason,” which finds Natalie Merchant surrounded by six veterans of homelessness, among them 15-year-old Nichole Cooper, who wrote the song.
There are also poems by advocate Julie K. Dinsmore, read by actor Danny Glover, and performances by Madeleine Peyroux (Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”), Sweet Honey In The Rock (“Stranger Blues”), and opera singer Mario Frangoulis (“Feels Like Home”). Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger deliver Jimmie Rodgers’ “Hobo’s Lullaby.”
But the CD avoids becoming a weighty downer. For starters, Bonnie Raitt turns in a rocking version of Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog,” aided by Weepin’ Willie Robinson. And the resilient spirit of these undiscovered talents is ultimately very uplifting.
Proceeds go to the non-profit homeless public education campaign Give US Your Poor, part of University of Massachusetts, Boston.
Appleseed, the folk label founded by attorney/producer/activist Jim Musselman, also celebrates its 10th anniversary with the double-disc, 37-track overview Sowing The Seeds.
Disc 1 is unabashedly devoted to protest songs, featuring Tom Paxton’s “The Bravest,” about 9/11, a new version of “Universal Soldier” by Donovan, and several tracks involving Pete Seeger – collaborations with Springsteen (“Ghost Of Tom Joad,” featuring David Hamburger’s Dobro), and Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle, and Billy Bragg (“Bring Them Home”), and an exclusive version of DiFranco as overdubbed one-woman band, performing Seeger’s “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy.” Also included are duets with Jackson Browne and Joan Baez (“Guantanamera”) and Eric Andersen and Wyclef Jean (“White Boots Marching In A Yellow Land”).
Disc 2 is more an overview of artists (and themes) Appleseed has featured – Judy Collins, Al Stewart, David Bromberg, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, John Stewart, and Eric Andersen again (this time with Lou Reed). Seeger’s presence is still felt – not only on the brief opening and closing solo tracks but on Bruce Cockburn’s take on Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and in collaborations with Roger McGuinn and Josh White, Jr., and with Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie, and his old Weavers partner, Ronnie Gilbert. It’s amazing how many folk legends have found a home at Appelseed!
The set’s only drawback is the lack of personnel listings for most songs – which is unfortunate, because there’s some great playing, all of it benefiting from a warm, intimate sound.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.