Several months ago I reviewed a recording by Grandpa Elliott, a New Orleans Street Singer who was associated with Playing For Change. At that time I noted that Playing for Change, according to its website (http://www.playingforchange.com), began as the brainchild of Grammy-winning music producer and engineer Mark Johnson. Utilizing innovative mobile audio/video techniques, Playing For Change records musicians outdoors in cities and townships worldwide. They have a single-minded passion to record little-known musicians. The name Playing For Change evokes the coins thrown to street musicians as well as the transformation their music inspires. The also believe music can be a force to foster understanding and peace between persons of diverse backgrounds and cultures. They have an arrangement with Concord Records to allow dissemination of their recordings, one of which was the fine Grandpa Elliott CD. Now they have issued a combined CD/DVD package, “Playing For Change Live” (Playing For Change Records/Timeless Media). The concert DVD has two more performances than are on the CD as well as two bonus performances.
Included are performances from several concerts in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Spain with a core group of musicians that travel and perform together although there does seem to be some varying personnel from tour to tour (I am basing this on the personnel on this CD/DVD set compared to slightly different personnel for a fall 2010 US tour that is given on the website). Grandpa Elliott is present on this to contribute his harmonica and vocals and other members of the Playing For Change Band here on pretty much all the performances include vocalist Clarence Bekker from Amsterdam, Netherlands; guitarist Jason Tamba from Matadi, Congo; vocalist Mermans Kenkosenki from Matadi, Congo; vocalist Ruth ‘Titi Tsira from Guguletu, South Africa; guitarist Louis Mhlanga from Harare, Zimbabwe and djembe by Mohammed Alidu from Tamale, Ghana.
There is a mix of classic blues, rhythm and blues, reggae songs mixed with African based performances. Grandpa Elliott opens up with a robust and exuberant “Fannie Mae,” with Keb’ Mo’ guesting on guitar with the band and his later rendition of “Sugar Sweet,” is only on the DVD. “Don’t Worry” is an uplifting song with wonderful vocals from Bekker and Tsira as the band gets a strong reggae groove with Grandpa Elliott taking a solo break as well as guitarist Mhlanga who consistently plays some of the sweetest sounding guitar, with a precise attack that is rhythmically compelling.
Mermans Kenkosenki contributed “Back to the Roots,” with a bit more African-reggae flavor again with such marvelous singing that bring so much warmth with the message of understanding an hope. The great Toots Hilbert is guest vocalist on a terrific rendition of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember,’ with supporting vocals from the aggregation. There are so many highlights including Titi Tsira’s marvelous original “Fela Ngaye,” as well as Ziggy Marley guesting on “Love is My Religion.”
Bob Marley’s “One Love” serves as the basis for the group to conclude the filmed portion of the DVD while the exhilarating treatment of “Stand By Me,” on the DVd serves as backdrop for the credits. Interspersed between the performances on the film are back stage scenes and the performers talking about there background and what music has meant to them and how they came to join Playing For Change. Of the two bonus scenes, one is of Grandpa Elliott singing “Amazing Grace” without accompaniment while hugging a cancer patient who was a special guest at the performance due to the Make A Wish Foundation.
The singing is so good, the band is terrific and the non-performance film scenes show how in touring they have become as much as family as a performing troupe. The whole experience presented here has so much soul and joy about it. In case I have not been clear, this is highly recommended. It should be available from better vendors as well as from the Playing For Change website.
For FTC regulations, the review copy of the CD was provided either by Concord Records or a firm handling publicity for this release.