Published Feb 21, 2009Charity compilations are predominantly one-note affairs propelled by the weight of their cause rather than the quality of the music. So it's a minor miracle that the Red Hot Organization, which raises money to fund AIDS relief programs around the world, has managed to produce a string of quality, often essential collections over its 20-year existence.
The charity's latest release, Dark Was the Night, is a sprawling two-disc affair filled with some of the brightest indie rock luminaries. The record's 31 tracks were produced by the National's Bryce and Aaron Dessner; prior to the National's success, Aaron worked for the design firm owned by Red Hot founder John Carlin, so the brothers were a natural choice.
As producers, the pair were responsible for "everything," says Bryce. "The whole vision. We were driving the whole thing." And while there is no specific theme to the compilation, traditional American songs and arrangements heavily influenced by Harry Smith's field recordings are pervasive - the album even shares its name with a Blind Willie Johnson tune. "The concept of the record was shaped by who was on it," explains Bryce. Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire and Antony Hegarty, with whom Bryce recorded a version of Bob Dylan's "I Was Young When I Left Home," were early participants who helped to set the album's tone.
Artists were encouraged to write original tracks or choose cover songs relevant to the record. "We were hoping to document our own generation," says Bryce, citing the 1993 Red Hot comp No Alternative as a touchstone for Dark Was the Night. But Bryce also hopes that the high profile compilation will remind people that though they might not experience it day to day, AIDS is still a global epidemic. "We're still in this," he says. "This isn't over."