Pennies From Heaven, the third volume in the laudable Sweet Relief benefit series, pairs an impressive pool of accomplished artists with stirring standards from decades gone by. True, it’s a time-tested tack that’s been successfully done many times before, but it remains a winning formula that can all but guarantee ongoing appeal. In this case, the album boasts a number of worthy draws — wistful songsmith Ron Sexsmith crooning “Pennies From Heaven,” Joseph Arthur abandoning all hints of psychedelic suggestion for a tender take on Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You,” and noted hipster Rickie Lee Jones serving up the sentiment with a surprisingly sweet “Surfer Girl.”
Nevertheless, none of the participants wander too far from the signature versions, and though curiosity may be piqued, there’s little here that adds anything of significance to the original arrangements. (In the case of Tina Schlieske’s cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” only her vocal distinguishes it from Joe Cocker’s tempestuous treatment.) The exception is found in Jackson Browne’s low-lit cover of Warren Zevon’s “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” a poignant choice of a tune being that it was illness that caused Zevon to be taken too soon. Given the worthiness of the cause — to provide financial assistance to musicians stricken with medical difficulties and unable to pay for their care — Pennies From Heaven makes for money that’s decidedly well spent.
DOWNLOAD: “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” “If I Needed you,” “Surfer Girl”