Various Artists

Garnered from a series of 1999 shows that featured a who's who of contemporary pickers and twangers, Concerts for a Landmine Free World is most satisfying when performers address the shows' theme indirectly, if at all. A case in point is Patty Griffin's "Mary," which laments both the Virgin Mother's loss of a son and the thanklessness of her lot afterward as she "stays behind and starts cleaning up the place." Likewise, Terry Allen's "Wilderness of This World" paints a portrait of loss and loneliness through images such as a single shoe found on a highway. In a similar vein, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings's laconic "Morphine" uses yodeled choruses to capture the bitter turn of a relationship with the title substance. Emmylou Harris, who masterminded the landmark performances on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, likewise turns in a characteristically heartbreaking rendition of "The Pearl," a Harris composition that strides the line between spirituality and sermonizing. Guy Clark (backed by guitarist Verlon Thompson) also turns in a craggy and hauntingly cryptic rendition of "Cold Dog Soup," while John Prine's untutored vocals lend rustic charm to "Big Ol' Goofy World." Equally spirited but less successful is Kris Kristofferson's "Shipwrecked in the Eighties," during which he does a better impression of Ramblin' Jack Elliott than perhaps Jack himself does these days. The collection's greatest flaw, however, belongs to Bruce Cockburn, who no doubt thought his pretentious "The Mines of Mozambique" would provide the evening's highlight. Instead, the Canadian crooner wears his heart so squarely on his sleeve it makes one wish they'd called Gordon Lightfoot instead. Still, if that's the worst fault of a CD released to raise money for mine victims, Harris and her cohorts have done themselves proud.


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