Picks and Pans Review: Folkways: a Vision Shared

updated 10/24/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Various Artists

Blame George Harrison. He unleashed the benefit boom in 1974 with his concert for Bangladesh. Now everywhere there's a celebrity charity extravaganza going on. A Vision Shared happens to be one of the better of these starry jamborees, both musically and conceptually. The lineup of artists includes U2, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Brian Wilson, Little Richard and Doc Watson. This time the assembled royalty of record royalties isn't committed to something impossibly lofty like wiping out mean thoughts in our lifetime. They're simply singing the songs of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. Royalties from the record go to fund the Smithsonian Institution's efforts to preserve more traditional American folk music, specifically the old Folkways label. Bob Dylan, who initiated this project, offers a very respectable rendering of Guthrie's Pretty Boy Floyd. (Ah, those were the days, when real outlaws got folk songs dedicated to their exploits, though Patty Hearst did have Camper Van Beethoven's Tania.) Dylan's performance here-trenchant vocals backed up by acoustic guitar and harmonica—recalls his better days. John Mellencamp is a surprisingly good interpreter of others' songs, what with his recent cover of Rave On by Buddy Holly on the Cocktail sound track and his hardscrabble version of Do Re Mi here. Guthrie wrote this ballad to the refugees from the Dust Bowl who saw California as the land of plenty. Bruce Springsteen delivers the album's most moving performance (big surprise, right?) with a simple, deeply felt rendition of Guthrie's I Ain't Got No Home. Also worthy of special mention is Taj Mahal's juicy ramble through Leadbelly's Bourgeois Blues. The whole package is well done. For once, we $10 rock philanthropists get some good music to go along with our warm humanitarian feelings. (Columbia)

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