Peter Gabriel doing Tom Waits. Not a bad way to stumble into a circle of re-interpretations by various artists on a just-released music-based peace effort for Africa called Home Recordings, Vol. 1.
Collected over three years, the album creates so-called “cover chains” in which, say, Joe Purdy takes on R.E.M.’s “Swan Swan H,” then Mike Mills offers a version of Billy Bragg’s “Sing Their Souls Back Home,” and then Bragg re-does Joanna Newsom’s “On a Good Day,” and so on. Vol. 1, as the title implies, is the first grouping of more than 70 recordings eventually titled the Voice Project.
I’m not sure that Gabriel, whose voice is surrounded every year by more billowing melancholy, couldn’t sing the daily crossword clues and still find some resonance in the way “four” and “down” sound together. Here, of course, he’s got something far more worthwhile to tackle, a darkly ruminative track — full of Waits’ typically striking imagery.
Gabriel strips out the boozy street-parade horns and, it goes without saying, nobody is approximating Tom’s gravelly yowl. Yet you hear, just below the lyric, something of Waits’ desperately sad initial delivery. There’s this sense that everything is irretrievably over — gone for good.
It’s a sobering song, perfect for such an important cause.
Proceeds from the sale of Home Recordings, Vol. 1 will be used as the Voice Project works with local radio broadcasters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic to transmit reconciliation messages in combat zones.
So far, the broadcasts have been successful in encouraging the surrender of resistance fighters, many of whom were told they would never be welcomed home again after being abducted as children and forced into battle.
The Voice Project was spearheaded by filmmmaker Anna Gabriel (Peter’s daughter), musician Chris Holmes and web designer Jason Young. For more information, go here: http://voiceproject.org/.