Everyone has one somewhere. A mouldering copy of The Big Issue, sitting at the bottom of a large pile of magazines or papers, dating from years before. A symbol of a token attempt at conscience-salving.
And yet, when musicians and other entertainers attempt to do something for charity, they are met with derision and criticism. While characters such as Bono and Bob Geldof have their critics and some have questioned the merit of their methods, their efforts are every bit as valid as our purchase of a copy of The Big Issue so that we can, for a time, feel immune to the horrible sense of undeserved fortune we get when we pass one of its vendors.
It would be extremely churlish, then, to review The Cake Sale (all profits from which go to Oxfam Ireland's Make Trade Fair campaign) in anything but the most glowing of terms; it is a commendable effort by a large group of musicians who genuinely want to help.
The musicians in question - Dave Geraghty, Lisa Hannigan, Paul Noonan, Josh Ritter, Emm Gryner, Nina Persson, Gary Lightbody, Glen Hansard, Gemma Hayes, Ollie Cole, Conor Deasy, Damien Rice, Matt Lunson, and Neil Hannon - would deserve great credit whether the album was one of the great purely commercial/artistic works or a piece of hastily thrown together dreck; the motivation – and indeed the end result – would still be the same.
So it helps that this is indeed a good album. 'Last Leaf', 'Some Surprise', 'All the Way Down', 'Aliens' and 'Too Many People' could all sit easily on any album by these artists. And most of the musicians would be happy to have 'Some Surprise' and 'Too Many People' as singles.
Some of it is, admittedly, weak. 'Vapour Trail' is not Paul Noonan's best song, nor is it Josh Ritter's best performance. And Conor Deasy's song 'Good Intentions Rust' is just as lightweight as anything The Thrills have produced. On a normal release, this would be a cause for some criticism. But on The Cake Sale it is more important to note that Deasy, Noonan, Ritter et al took the time to contribute fresh compositions and original recordings.
The Cake Sale deserves its five stars, if not always for the music then definitely for the effort.
Barry J Whyte