Fish Trees Water Blues
Putting together a musically coherent compilation of more than a dozen disparate artists working within the blues is no easy task. The producers of "Fish Trees Water Blues" accomplish the challenge by allowing elder statesmen and -women like John Lee Hooker and gospel singer Mavis Staples to rub elbows with younger upstarts like punk folkie Ani DiFranco and bluesman Keb' Mo'. The compilation serves a righteous cause: All proceeds go to the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund's Fish-Trees-Water campaign, which preserves wild salmon, ancient forests and clean waterways. In good conscience, each artist contributes an ecologically or socially conscious track that reminds listeners that there's more to life than creature comforts.DiFranco's funkified "Fuel" takes on media overload, while Staple's soul-stirring "I'll Fly Away" looks to far more ethereal realms. Laid-back '70s songwriter J.J. Cale's "Stone River" ponders a desolate world without water or vegetation ("What used to be a stream/Is now just a dream"). Blues guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart uses mandolin and old-timey instrumental "Rollin' River" to draw a bucolic sketch. Like any blues CD worth owning, this one has moments of great guitar playing: Joe Louis Walker's burning fretwork on "The Road You Choose" works well with accompaniment by saxophonist Branford Marsalis; and John Hammond and John Lee Hooker smolder together on "Drifting Blues." Ruth Brown, Robert Cray, Tracy Nelson, Roomful of Blues and Loudon Wainwright III all add their considerable voices to the project as well. Only Charlie Musselwhite and Bob Weir's version of "Take Me to the River" and Etta James' cover of the Eagles' "Take It to the Limit" -- in both cases, artists working with material they should probably avoid -- seem watered-down. The rest of "Fish Trees Water Blues" flows quite nicely.REQUIRED TAG: This review originally appeared on Salon, an online magazine at www.salonmagazine.com.