Various Artists : Warren Haynes Presents – The Benefit Concert Vol. 4

Another Christmas, another Christmas Jam (the 23rd!), and another archival release from events past, Warren Haynes Presents: The Benefit Concert Vol. 4. Get ready to get merry – this one’s a doozy.

Recorded during the 2002 installment of Warren Haynes’ annual benefit for Asheville, North Carolina’s Habitat for Humanity, this double-disc release documents an explosive night of rocking performances and inspired collaborations.  Opening with a sparse reading of James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind” – a clear nod to the hometown crowd in Asheville – the performances build energy song over song. A brooding “Climb to Safety” by Jerry Joseph and Dave Schools gives way to a twofer from Robert Randolph and the Family Band. But the high point of this first disc comes from moe. and the “Dark Star” jam that gives way to the festive “Mexico.”

The meat of The Benefit Concert Vol. 4 is found on the second disc in Bob Weir and Friends’ uber-funky “Shakedown Street” that segues into “Truckin’” before transforming into “The Other One.” To cap the album, Gov’t Mule’s sprawling delivery of “Sco Mule” – with help from DJ Logic, Dr. Dan Mantrazo, and Mike Barnes – emanates feral power, and the Mule closes out the collection in high style with a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” with help from former Skynyrd drummer Artemis Pile, along with Schools, Audley Freed, and Rob Baracco.

Oddly enough, the only downside to the Benefit Concert Vol. 4 is its brevity. At two discs and two-and-a-half hours, the release highlights the featured acts from the 2002 installment, but given the four-plus hour marathon shows for which the Christmas Jam is known, it only whets the appetite. The stellar cherry-picked performances by Bob Weir & Friends and Gov’t Mule, in particular, leave a great deal of music absent from the collection.

The annual Christmas Jam is legendary; year after year Haynes puts together a spirited party for the sold-out crowd, and creates a collaborative Mecca for the performers. While the event only comes but once a year, The Benefit Concert series is a gift that keeps on giving. Vol. 4 is a release that will have a home in this writer’s playlist well beyond the holiday season.

Warren Haynes Presents: The Benefit Concert Vol. 4 is out now on Evil Teen Records.