Various Artists December 20 2006

The Harry Smith Project Live

The Harry Smith Project Live concerts may have been conceptualized as incredible events in music history, but the legacy presented on this DVD fails on most levels. The dichotomy — no, trichotomy — of discrepancies shows that not everything we have available these days works across genre and/or media. Let's deconstruct this particular concept: 1. Harry Smith collected tons of traditional music. 2. The songs have been "redone" by a wide array of contemporary artists. 3. The performances were captured on digital video. Sounds like a sure thing, but it isn't.

First, the song selection from the vast amount of material is weak. Surely there was something better than "Dry Bones" for Sonic Youth? Second, many of the contemporary artists perform the songs in some "updated" or "organic" fashion, and they simply don't work. Steve Earle's obviously unrehearsed and mumbling take of "Prison Cell Blues" is an embarrassment. Third, the video shoots of the performances are sloppily edited, barren and uninteresting. Only Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson and a couple of others do their jobs correctly here. Harry Smith's legacy deserves better than this. 2 stars