Various Artists – Luz de Vida: A Compilation to Benefit the Victims of the Tucson Tragedy

January 01, 1970

(Fort Lowell Records) ;


In the early ‘90s my family and I adopted Tucson
– or I should say, Tucson
adopted us, with the music
community’s embrace turning out to be particularly warm, and enduring. Though I
now live on the other side of the country, the sorrow I felt following the
January shootings was as genuine as if I’d been sitting in my Old Pueblo living
room when the news broke.


Jan. 8 was a Saturday, and early that afternoon I happened
to be in the car with NPR on the radio when a newsbreak aired the first of the
still-sketchy details. I don’t think it fully registered with me until I got
home and pulled up the news on my computer – something about Representative
Gabrielle Giffords being killed (that part turned out to be premature and
untrue, luckily) by a lone gunman who was wrestled to the ground by some of the
folks who had turned out for a Giffords rally/meet-and-greet at a Safeway
grocery located on the northwest side of Tucson. I searched for the store on
Google Maps, and the feeling was like being punched in the face: it was the
same Safeway where my wife and I had frequently shopped, just a couple of miles
from the house we used to live in.


What if we had…
I couldn’t even complete the thought. That night we emailed some of our friends
in Tucson, and
all of them said the same thing: “It’s
like the whole city is in shock and moving in slow motion.”
Even from a
distance of a full decade and several thousand miles, I felt like something
terrible had happened to a family member and I was helpless to do anything.


So in a very real sense, this is personal: Luz de Vida: A Compilation to Benefit the
Victims of the Tucson Tragedy
, a 12-song sun-bright yellow vinyl LP ) or
37-track digital album; download card included with the vinyl if that’s your
purchase choice), put together by local label Fort Lowell Records and the Music
Against Violence organization. It is about family in the most literal sense,
and the musicians who’ve gathered here in service of that imperative are
speaking in the most universal language of all. The LP comprises all locals: from
the ethereal indiepop reveries of Dead
Western Plains
(“People Beat”) and the brisk martial crunch of La Cerca (“Swim An Ocean”) to Calexico‘s elegant twang ‘n’ strum
(“Absent Afternoon”), Giant Sand‘s sparse,
dusty tale of tears and Tucson’s “collective heart” (“Recovery Mission”) and a
haunting, slide guitar-fueled meditation on birth, life, dreams and beyond by
the late Rainer Ptacek (“The Oasis”;
Ptacek passed away in ’97), there’s a message being sent, and that message is hope. Luz de Vida, incidentally,
translates to “Light of Life.”


The same sentiment is pushed forward with equal aplomb on
the digital version, which brings together still more Tucson artists along with
a host of nationals – some of them, including Robyn Hitchcock, Chuck Prophet
and Neko Case, with close Tucson ties – including Spoon, John Vanderslice, Meat
Puppets, DeVotchKa, Ozomatli, Jimmy Eat World and Rachel Flotard & Jon


You need to understand: multi-artist compilations tend to be
inherently flawed, with everything from the varying quality of the source tapes
to the juxtapositions of artists who may or may not have anything in common
with one another affecting the overall listening experience. Too, benefit
projects with a local thrust typically have the unfortunate (but logical)
trajectory of remaining local because, lacking a broader national “angle,” the
project can have a tough time gaining media traction much beyond the city
limits. What’s remarkable about Luz de Vida,
then, is its across-the-board quality, with even free-wheeling live recordings
working wonderfully beside meticulously-crafted studio tracks, and its
unquestionable universal appeal, not the least of which is the universality of
the message noted above.


In addition to the tracks previously described, other
Tucson-centric music helping to make this such a success includes Rich Hopkins serving up a new version
of his old desert-rock band the Sidewinders’ “What Am I Supposed to Do”;
Lenguas Largas’ “Such a Thing” (lush, dreamy shoegaze); a jaw-dropping live cover
of the Sam Cooke soul classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Chango Malo; Mariachi Luz de Luna’s “Luz a la Vida”
(a rousing Spanish language mariachi number); and – speaking of mariachi – Al Perry, backed up by Calexico, with
the mariachi-and-pedal-steel powered “Dreaming.” Meanwhile, destined for heavy
rotation on your iPod are the high-profile national likes of Flotard & Rauhouse (the
sweetly-rendered, Latin-flavored folk of “Hammered Light”), Meat Puppets (gnarly, thumping live
waltz “Love Our Children Forever”), DeVotchKa (a sizzling, searing slice of gypsy psychedelia, “The Common Good”); Spoon (the luminous, gracefully
anthemic “Vittorio E.”), and Chuck
(billed here as “El Depravos feat. Chuck Prophet, with an inspired
bit of swamp-surf, Spaghetti Western-flavored looniness called “Vampire


Writes Calexico’s Joey Burns in the promotional materials
for Luz de Vida, “Music is the thread
that keeps life going when we have nowhere else to go and feel like our world
has no direction. Here in this compilation… you feel the sense of community and
respect that we all share for one another here. [It] brings a much needed
warmth and glow into the heart of Arizona and Sonora.”


Amen to that. For yours truly, all this feels like returning home
after spending far too much time away.


Prophet “Vampire Requiem”; La Cerca “Swim An Ocean”; Lenguas Largas “Such A
Thing”; Rainer “The Oasis”; Giant Sand “Recovery Mission”; Spoon “Vittorio E.”; DeVotchKa “The
Common Good”; Chango Malo “A Change Is Gonna Come”; Calexico “Absent Afternoon”


 Go here for some more details on the album and listen to a couple of audio tracks from it as well.


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