I just listened to my new copy of An AIDS Quilt Songbook:Song for Hope and I’m in a bit of a state of shock. It’s nearly 80 minutes of music featuring many of America’s best singers and musicians singing songs inspired by AIDS along with some poetry readings. Participants include Yo Yo Ma, Joyce DiDonato, Tony Deane-Griffey, Matthew Polenzani, Isobel LeonardSharon Stone and many more. All profits go to amFAR; the Foundation for AIDS Research. www.amfar.org
I guess everyone will react differently in detail to a somewhat eclectic album like this and I fancy I will hear it differently in a repeat listening. So, highly subjectively, here are my top picks on first hearing. Ordinary; words by Herschel Garfein and music by Fred Hersch, performed here by Michael Slattery and the composer. It’s a paean to the power of pharmaceuticals’ ability to let us lead a normal life and death and just how extraordinary the ability to be ordinary can be. From “Sixteen pills in the morning/ Fourteen pills at night” to “To let us both grow old together/ Until I die in some ordinary way”.
Sharon Stone’s reading of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s What Lips My Lips have Kissed is wonderful too. Maybe the best singing on the album is Tony Dean Griffey’s performance of Rafael Campo and Drew Hemenger’s Her Final Show with Thomas Bagwell at the piano. It’s a tribute to a dying drag queen and is sung with great beauty.
It’s not all gloom and doom. There’s irony and humour too from Herschel Garfein’s No Giggly Time; a lecture on the use of condoms to third world sex workers given a bravura performance by Monica Yunus and Thomas Bagwell to Jamie Barton and Kenneth Merrill’s drily witty account of Erica Reda’s Atripla!; a setting of a Drug Information Sheet.
There are a generous 23 tracks on the album and it’s all for a good cause so if you are still stuck for a present for an art song lover here you go.