I dig punk rock. I dig helping good causes. Ergo, I dig Harvest of Hope Fest, the two-disc compilation celebrating the annual festival of the same name. According to its mission statement, Harvest of Hope is a foundation that offers aid to migrant farm workers by "distributing funds to pay for gas, tires, car repairs, rent, utilities, medical services, food, clothing, funeral expenses and educational scholarships." I dig that too.
Good intentions alone aren't what make Harvest of Hope the CD a worthy purchase, though. Fail Safe Records is offering it for $6, a cheap price for two hours worth of punk's mainstays and up-and-comers.
The first disc is all live material, and admittedly, it's the weaker collection. Sure, it's funny to hear Propagandhi fuck up "Anti-Manifesto" a bunch of times before finally delivering. Same for Bomb the Music Industry!, who can't quite get everything synced on "Even Winning." But after a while, I started to crave the studio versions of these songs. Other live takes--Against Me!'s "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong," Bouncing Souls' "Gasoline"--while competent and good, don't make the comp a must-have.
There are a few winners, of course. Hearing the crowd sing along with Smoke or Fire's Joe McMahon on an acoustic version of "Cryin' Shame" is awesome/touching/awesome. Fake Problems humorously bookends the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with "Sorry OK Sorry" and "Born & Raised." Strike Anywhere debuts then-new tune "Invisible Colony," and it rips. The best tracks, though, are spoken word--No More prefaces "Radiation Tower" with a quick speech about how important it is to help out poor farmers stuck living in tents and working 12-hour shifts day after day. It hints of preachiness, but the band has a point: Shit is fucked. HoH members Phil and Ed Kellerman introduce the disc with an explanation of the organization's roots and give thanks to the bands and concert-goers. Oddly enough, this introduction might be the best part of the first disc.
I'm not trying to knock the first disc, though. It's good; it just pales compared to CD #2, "studio disk." This superior collection offers unreleased tracks from O Pioneers!!!, Static Radio NJ, Coyote Throat and Laserhead, as well as choice cuts from recent albums by Less Than Jake, Paint It Black and Rehasher. Considering the low price, that alone makes it a good buy. Even with the previously released material, there's still a good chance listeners will find new bands to check out. In my case, that includes Ninja Gun, whose uber-anthemic "Eight Miles Out" keeps my toes a-tapping, and Underground Railroad to Candyland, for whom lo-fi catchy ditties seem to come naturally. Tunes from Grabass Charlestons, Cutman, Young Livers and How Dare You are solid as well. The audio quality and performances are stronger compared to the concert disc, making Harvest of Hope's second half a strong mix.
So even though the set is uneven, there's still so much to love (and support) that Harvest of Hope's lineup, much like that of the recently wrapped second annual concert, is endearing, heartfelt and pretty dang rocking. Actually, looking at the lineup for the shows, I hope the organization puts out a second comp. How cool would it be to have the Mountain Goats, forgetters and, uh, Anvil on one collection?