Thursday, July 05, 2012

Various Artists - Live at The World Café, Volumes 1 to 33

Live At The World Cafe, Vol. 33
The World Café, a very eclectic music program syndicated nationally by NPR celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. It's a daily, two hour show hosted by David Dye, a local Philadelphia DJ, who has a long history in rock radio dating back to the early 1970s. Dye plays a wide-ranging mix of folk, jazz, country, rock and even some world music. The show originates and is transcribed from the studios of WXPN, the alternative-rock station owned and operated by the University of Pennsylvania. It's currently aired on more than 250 NPR outlets nationwide. Dye's on air guests have included hundreds of fledgling artists trying to find their way in the music business as well as many interviews and mini-concerts from superstars such as Paul McCartney, Yo-Yo Ma, and Joni Mitchell.

As with all programming on public radio the show is commercial free so that means it relies heavily on funding from corporate sponsorship, the government, and donations from their listeners. Both WXPN and The World Café have created some very inventive ways of raising the necessary capital to keep the station and show on the air. One such venture is their series of CDs titled Live at the World Café that the station offers as a thank you to fans who make a donation. Each disc is loaded with a highly eclectic set of around fourteen to eighteen on-air performances by Dye's guests.

Loads of stars have allowed their World Café sessions to be used on the albums. The list includes Greg Allman, The Counting Crows, Joan Baez, Dave Matthews Band, Robert Plant, Mark Knopfler, Wilco, Norah Jones, and Sheryl Crow. The heavy hitters join dozens of artists known mostly to alternative music fans such as Bell X1, Michelle Shocked, Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Dawes, and Ryan Adams along with a lot of unknowns who hope these CDs will broaden their fan base. There's also room for modern rock. The Decembrists, The Hold Steady, and My Morning Jacket have all had their music embraced by the producers of these fine compilations.

Initially, most of the recordings were limited to solo or small group acoustic performances due to the very cramped studio space at WXPN’s old campus location. Eventually, after the station moved to roomier, more modern facilities, The World Café used their increased flexibility to host much larger groups and this enhancement is noticeable on many of the later releases.

Due to the diversity of music on these albums it's always quite possible you won't like everything on them. I'm sure the series' producers are aware of that possibility but they take great care to release top flight songs from the best performers the show has to offer. Fortunately, they mostly succeed.

Because every World Café release is a limited edition many eventually become highly sought after collectors’ items. Used copies of Volume 1, originally released in 1995, currently go for $70 on Amazon and as high as $99 in a Princeton, New Jersey CD store. The latest set, Volume 33 is currently available for a $75 pledge to the station. If you are at a WXPN sponsored event, you can get several of the more recent titles for just $15 each without a pledge or station membership.

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