When you start with 21 Cole Porter songs, as this compilation—a benefit for AIDS treatment and research—does, you are already approaching can't-go-wrong territory. And the performances, by an array of current musicians, are often marvelous.
First, let's get the disasters out of the way. "Begin the Beguine." sung (rarely on key) by Salif Keita of Mali in Mandingo, is an atrocity. Tom Waits's "It's All Right with Me" is painful to listen to—even more tuneless and guttural than his usual singing. And the Jungle Brothers' turning "I Get a Kick (Out of You)" into a rap is like turning a Ferrari into a flower box.
But then: k.d. lang does a rich, touching version of "So in Love," backed by Connie Graver's piano. U2 transposes "Night and Day" into a Eurorock tune marred only by a stultifyingly monotonous drum machine: Bono's vocal gets as much out of the song as Ella Fitzgerald's or Frank Sinatra's did in different modes. Annie Lennox broods effectively through "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" (supported by pianist Ed Shearmur); Jody Watley adds a thoughtful "After You Who?"; Lisa Stansfield a deep blue "Down in the Depths"; and Sinead O'Connor a breathy, intriguingly tentative "You Do Something to Me" (as if she's not sure she should admit to the sentiment).
Then there's Jimmy Somerville's driving "From This Moment On," the Neville Brothers' sumptuous "In the Still of the Night" (featuring Aaron's vocal and Charles's sax), and Aztec Camera's provocative "Do I Love You?" a not-too-often heard Porter tune (though Artie Shaw's band with Martha Tilton did it justice in the '40s). For novelty, Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry have fun with "Well. Did You Evah!" (the song Bing Crosby and Sinatra sang in High Society), the Thompson Twins update ''Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (done by Sinatra and Celeste Holm in the same film), and David Byrne puts new twists on "Don't Fence Me In."
A TV show featuring video versions of the album's songs airs Dec. 1 on ABC. All profits from the TV show, video and album sales will go to AIDS-related charities.
The project, started by New York lawyer John Carlin and London-based filmmaker Leigh Blake out of a shared concern for the AIDS crisis and a mutual passion for Porter, is a case of do-goodism gone right. It's a chance to reflect on Porter's genius (who else has blended cynicism and romance so artfully?), gain new appreciation for some current pop artists, and be generous, all at the same time. (Chrysalis)