Mojo Presents “Desert Songs”: Music review

April 2017’s Mojo magazine featured a free CD entitled “Desert Songs” and emblazoned with a sunset silhouette photo of joshua trees and desert. A U2 band shot from the “Joshua Tree” album was the magazine cover photo, so I assumed this collection might be an interest listen in the context of that seminal U2 album which is turning 30 this year and being celebrated with a commemorative tour. The CD cover informs us that we may expect to hear “15 tracks of cosmic roots music,” and the brief liner notes feature a Bono quote about U2’s interest not so much in “America the land mass or the body politic, but America the mythic idea.”
I’m not sure if the 15 track collection spanning the 80s through today really captures any sense of the Mojave or the barren wind-swept and sun-baked mystery of the American desert, or in fact of any American mythology that may have informed U2’s “Joshua Tree.”
Two thirds of the collection is a jumble of passable tracks from Meat Puppets, Howe Gelb, Cass McCombs, Rainer Ptacek, Devon Sproule, Victoria Williams, Mark Eitzel, Alejandro Escovedo, Michael Chapman, Lift to Experience, with a handful of standouts:
Julie Byrne’s “All The Land Glimmered Beneath,” reminiscent of early Leonard Cohen; The Long Ryder’s “Ivory Tower,” with its early REM / Americana feel; a more haunting take on the Americana tone in the Johnny Cash-ish “Mother of Earth” by The Gun Club; Harvey Mandel’s psychedelic Pink Floyd-meets-Santana “Nightingail”; and the capstone of the collection: Jack Rose’s instrumental guitar piece that continues the legacy of fingerpicking American greats like John Fahey and Leo Kottke.
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