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Water for Life
Artist: Wells for Zoë / Various
Label: Compass Records
Time: 12 Tracks / 54 mins
Charity discs vary wildly in their quality: some re-hash old tracks, some have little continuity, and – looking at it from the compiler’s side – they can often be a nightmare to assemble. This disc avoids most of these problems and, in the best way, reflects the family approach behind the project.
Only set up in 2005, Wells for Zoë is a humanitarian organization dedicated to providing safe drinking water and water storage for irrigation in four remote rural areas of Malawi. The charity concentrates on low cost, small scale, appropriate and sustainable water technology. The link with this disc is that the founders John and Mary Coyne are the parents of tenor banjo player Eamonn Coyne.
Hearing the CD, you could imagine that the songs are chosen by people of such an age and affiliation. The disc is light-Celtic, epitomized by Michael McGoldrick’s instrumental “Watermans.” The keyboard-and-whistles-based piece very much replicates the sound of his Capercaillie band – spacious, chilled and with relaxed dance sensibilities.
Naturally, their son features on the disc. He plays some reels with his regular musical buddy Kris Drever, with his band Salsa Celtica, and with the Alison Brown Quartet on “The Wonderful Sea Voyage (of Holy St. Brendan)”. (Brown co-founded the roots-focused Compass label that distributes the disc.)
The Coyne connections have paid off and other notable names include Karine Polwart, Paul Brady, Sinead O’Connor – who all sing original and/or unreleased songs here – and Beth Nielson Chapman.
But the lesser known artists also make a significant contribution: Crooked Still’s “Wading Deep Waters” is a very simple picked blues song that is probably more memorable than O’Connor’s; and the Alison Brown Quartet’s banjo-based piece sounds like a track you’ve always known, maybe as a theme from an old American light entertainment series. It has some lovely interplay around its theme.
The weakest track for me is surprisingly the Polwart one. She has a great reputation and her singing is fine. It’s just that something about the slightly cheesy track, written for this project, reminds me of the Simpsons charity record spoof "We're Sending Our Love Down The Well."
By contrast, two of the best are the very different contributions from Salsa Celtica and Heidi Talbot. After two of the lesser tracks on the disc, Salsa Celtica burst in and start the party with the sort of energy Ricky Martin showed on “Livin’ la Vida Loca.’ They are what their name suggests – the dance spirit of salsa played by Celtic musicians. Their piece features a just-right trumpet solo and plenty of fun. Heidi Talbot sings a far quieter piece, but her expression is outstanding and gets those neck hairs trying to walk.
Wells for Zoe doesn’t shout for attention, but this cohesive and enjoyable release has very few poor tracks, offers some definite highlights and makes good use of your money. You can hear short snippets here ( http://compassrecords.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=4625) and there is charity information at www.wellsforzoe.org.