Originally, Groundwork was a concert series built to raise money for a variety of sustainable, ongoing food projects around the world, including establishing orchards in Eritrea, producing natural honey in Armenia and building community-wide backyard livestock development in Sierra Leone. The group stayed true to its name by getting down to business in the muddy earth rather than merely fronting for various causes. Though technically a by-product of the ubiquitous Starbucks coffee chain (it was compiled by Hear Music, the company that distributes compilations to Starbucks locations), Act to Reduce Hunger is as amazing and brave as the Groundwork organization itself. It's an inspiring collection that enlists artists from many oddball places on the musical spectrum, all in the name of a single cause.
"Eclectic" is the word of the day here, from Emmylou Harris doing a tasty, beat-driven remix of "One Big Love" to Michael Franti and Spearhead belting out the call to arms for the radicalized "Listener Supported." Moby ("Whispering Wind") and Joseph Arthur ("I Donated Myself to the Mexican Army") appear alongside jazzman Bill Frissell ("Keep Your Eyes Open").
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Even Madonna's Groundwork contribution is not as annoying as usual, perhaps because she's not singing in English on "Cyber-Raga," an Indian-electronica romp through programmed beats and looped vocals that is remarkably fresh and fun. (Memo to Britney, J. Lo and Fred Durst: Learn Hindi.) Other highlights include Tom Waits doing "Buzz Fledderjohn," the kind of creaky, back-porch acoustic growlfest for which he is best known, and Brad Mehldau playing an instrumental concert-piano version of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android." It's quite unexpected, but it works.
A full $12 of Groundwork's $14.95 price tag goes directly to fund "teach a man to fish"-style projects, thus avoiding some of the difficulties encountered when "charities" end up keeping more money than they give to the needy. There are plenty of gifts in here to benefit the listener, too. Go to groundwork2001.org for more.