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Published: 2003/06/26
by Mike Greenhaus

etown live, volume III – various artists Carved In Stone, volume I – various artists

Frog Pad Records


Benefit albums are strange beasts. A compilation of artists united by a
cause instead of a certain style of music, they have a tendency to meander;
creating albums that help a charity, often without making amazing music. Not
part of an artists' official canon, theyre also a place for to bury
B-sides, covers, and alternative versions of album tracks, causing
collectors to consume compilations regardless of their quality .

Radio compilations are also unique collections. A spliced together
collection of a stations favorite artists, they are usually more focused
affairs, even if that focus is dictated by a stations format. Recorded in
a radio station's studio, theyre not quite live albums and not quite studio
discs. Thus they lack the focus of a well-produced album and the spontaneity
of a live concert recording.

This spring two Colorado based stages released benefit CD; showcasing many
of the artists that have played beneath their respective marquees. Red
Rocks' Carved In Stone is the first multi-band volume intended to
collect some of the Colorado amphitheater's most memorable moments. Going
towards the venue's Preserve the Rocks fund, the CD is also a charity
compilation, cataloging ten tracks recorded by some of the venue's favorite
and most frequent visitors. Originating in Colorado, ETown is a grassroots
radio program recorded and broadcast throughout the country. ETown
Live takes the best aspects of both radio collections and benefit discs,
narrowing its focus while still raising money for the environmentally
conscious radio program. Both Carved in Stone and ETown Live act as
historical documents and charity CDs, archiving the many musicians who have
played in each legendary location.

Red Rocks has welcomed all types of performers into its amphitheater for
close to 100 years. On U2s Under a Blood Red Sky, Bono helped add
the name Red Rocks to the pop-culture lexicon by belting, "This is Red
Rocks! This is the Edge!" Yet the producers of Carved in Stone focus
their selections on two styles of music: jambands and organic pop. Without
playing favorites, their choice is a wise one. Red Rocks is one of the few
"real" amphitheaters left in America. It doesnt have a large corporate
sponsor, ala the Tweeter Center, evoking the grassroots feel that
characterizes the jamband and organic pop genres.

ETown Live also captures the program's organic edge. Recorded in upstate New
York and Boulder, Colorado, the album is united in its country feel — an
excellent soundtrack for a environmentally important radio program. Though
it is the third volume in the ETown series, one cant complain about the
compilation's more than stellar lineup: David Gray, the Indigo Girls, Susan
Tedeschi, Natalie Merchant, Randy Newman, The Band's Rick Danko, and a host
of other musicians make their mark.

Each artist included is heavily rooted in Americana music, adding bits of
folk, country, blues, and gospel to their styles. Most performances are
stripped down, often to acoustic guitar and organ, creating a
singer-songwriter showcase in which lively lyrics take center stage. Many of
the artists included straddle mainstream popular culture. ETowns
compilation allows them to dig a bit deeper into their bag of tricks and try
out some interesting new arrangements. Like Carved in Stone, Etown
Live finds success by narrowing its focus, drawing on the benefits of
both charity albums and radio collections.

With the exception of String Cheese Incident, Carved in Stone could have
also been a document of HORDE Fest circa 1994. Its lineup includes
second-wave jamband heavyweights Phish, Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band,
and Widespread Panic, as well as their grassroots pop peers Big Head Todd
and the Monsters and the Indigo Girls. Rounding out the lineup are two
southern-rock stalwarts, The Allman Brothers Band and Little Feat, as well
1970s/80s midwest folkie Rickie Lee Jones. Yet, most of the album's tracks
were recorded relatively recently, within the past three years. But, like a
well-chosen film soundtrack, each of the album's tracks work together,
capturing the feel of this favorite amphitheater.

Each album is filled with individual highlights, making both discs excellent
compilations. The Indigo Girls' "Ghost" is a nice diversion from male
oriented acts. "It seems like you feel time differently in Colorado," they
announce. Sticking to their speech, the Indigo Girls, like most bands
included on Carved In Stone, play with a relaxed energy, reminding
listeners that they are enjoying Red Rocks.

Perhaps the album's highlight is also its most recent moment. Recorded last
summer, String Cheese Incident include a funky version of "Close Your Eyes,"
complete with an appearance by Robert Randolph. Also Colorado natives,
String Cheese seem like they are playing to hit every stone that
collectively form Red Rocks. Having packed large theaters across the
country, many for the first time, String Cheese are returning home as stars
and playing for their first fans. Each band featured on Carved in
Stone is at a different stage in their career, yet the disc places each
performer on the same rocky plane.

Etown Live opens with Eliza Gilkysons "Beauty Way," a folk ballad
about father and daughter musicians. The album immediately evokes a casual
sense of community that is advanced by claps and cheers from a calm and
polite radio crowd. Gospel singers the Blind Boys if Alabama reinvent "Run
On For a Lone Time" for a rock audience, while Pops Staples uses his deep
blues background (he played with Robert Johnson and marched with Martin
Luther King Jr.) to rearrange one of Bob Dylans Christian-era cuts, "Gotta
Serve Somebody."

Recorded in upstate New York, the Band's late '60s stomping ground, the late
Rick Danko is maybe the album's most exciting inclusion. Backed by original
Band-mate Garth Hudson, longtime Band sideman Professor Louie, and several
central New York club favorites, Danko plays a stripped version on "Book
Faded Brown," a sometimes silly and always sincere song that shows off
Danko's often overlooked frontman qualities.

Though both discs evoke an intimate feel, one heavily rooted in Colorado
culture and grassroots sensibility, they ultimately highlight different
kinds of compilation albums. Yet both albums manage to bring listeners onto
their respective stages, highlighting past performances and enticing
listeners to learn more about ETown and Red Rocks. Hopefully, both Etown and
Red Rocks will continue to expand their audience by revisiting more old

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