However well intended, benefit CDs usually suffer from spotty material and a general lack of cohesiveness. This multi-artist release, made in conjunction with the Boston-based nonprofit organization that shares its name, is a glowing exception.
Featuring musicians of many stripes — Keb’ Mo’, Bruce Springsteen, Buffalo Tom, and Madeleine Peyroux, to name a few — the nineteen-song set feels as seamless as the chapters in a novel. The credit for that goes not to big-name participants such as those above, but rather to the lesser-known musicians who accompany them. Never heard of Mighty Sam McClain? Eagle Park Slim? Del Goldfarb? Each has an original song on the compilation, and each has endured homelessness. They, along with a large cast of formerly or currently homeless peers, contribute mightily to these tracks.
Not surprisingly, themes of strife and poverty abound, but what’s most striking about these songs is the absence of pathos and the prevailing sense of hope. Accompanied by Jon Bon Jovi, McClain offers up a soulful, Al Green-like gospel hymn aptly titled “Show Me The Way”. Similarly, in the best Delta tradition, Eagle Park Slim seeks solace and refuge in the arms of a kind-hearted woman on “Baby Don’t Let Me Go Homeless”, recorded with fellow bluesman Keb’ Mo’. And on one of the disc’s most affecting moments, Dan Zanes teams with 11-year-old Kyla Middleton, who never missed a day of school during two years of homelessness, for a jaunty treatment of Lead Belly’s “Boll Weevil”.
Supplementing the disc is a 28-page booklet that tells the backstories for each track. As with the songs themselves, the liner notes attest to the resilience of the human spirit, even while laying bare statistics that should shame a country so rich. With beauty, grace, and dignity, Give US Your Poor draws attention toward places where the inclination too often is to turn away.