Leave it to Willie Nelson. The country king's 15 years of Farm Aid involvement, which resulted in 13 concerts and millions of dollars donated to American family farmers, also resulted in scads of memorable performances. With this double-disc culled from Farm Aid comes the realization of just how broad a lineup of musical luminaries have given their time.
First, there's John Mellencamp, who with rocker Neil Young aid Nelson atop Farm Aid's organizers. Mellencamp's apropos "Rain on the Scarecrow" seethes with an urgency that family farmers know all too well. Capping the album, Young's quiet "Mother Earth" sounds like a prayer, one which has yet to be answered. In between, such artists as Bonnie Raitt ("Love Letter"), Latino roots rockers Los Lobos ("One Time One Night") and pop-rock superstars Dave Matthews Band ("Crash into Me") lend credence to the notion of Farm Aid being an all-genre encompassing event.
Yet, Nelson's country kin get their chops in, too. Check out Martina McBride's 1996 take on "Safe in the Arms of Love." OK, so that's not real, real country, but it works well. Need more country? Order up a tall dose of Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakam. The Man in Black's 1993 performance of "Folsom Prison Blues" sounds every bit as cool as you'd expect. Ditto Yoakam's 1990 reading of "Guitars, Cadillacs." Cool doesn't come any cooler than those two.
Unless old man Nelson is around. And he approiately turns up several times. First with Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings as The Highwaymen on "City of New Orleans." On disc two, alternative rocker Beck joins the Red Headed Stranger for a lolling take on Jimmie Rodgers' "Peach Picking Time Down in Georgia." Add the likes of Marty Stuart ("Now That's Country"), Steve Earle & The Dukes ("Copperhead Road") and Bryan Adams ("Run to You") and this initial Farm Aid album sounds like a dandy.