Warren Haynes is still mining the vaults from his Christmas Jam benefit concerts that have taken place over the past 21 years. With The Benefit Concert Vol. 3, he continues the slow chronological exposure of past events. This two-disc set culls 18 songs from the 2001 show, while volumes one and two grabbed material from 1999 and 2000. Like any live album, the degree of its strength comes not only from performances that merit repeated listenings but creating the desire that makes you wish you were there. With a lineup of Gov’t Mule, Phil Lesh & Friends, Blues Traveler, Drivin’ N Cryin’ plus special guests Alvin Youngblood Hart, Audley Freed, Danny Barnes, Dave Schools, Edwin McCain, Oteil Burbridge and Robert Randolph, The Benefit Concert succeeds on both of those necessary elements.
Other than a completist who has a copy of the entire show and feels that any tampering with the original is sacrilegious, these two CDs make a worthwhile effort of representing that December 21st evening in the Asheville Civic Center Arena. Unlike the original event, this begins with a few acoustic numbers that emphasize the loose and jovial atmosphere. Highlights feature John Popper who pairs up with Alvin Youngblood Hart on “Devil Got My Woman” and later is joined by McCain, Oteil Burbridge, Jimmy Herring and Barnes on a revamped version of Blues Traveler’s “Alone.” The underrated Drivin’ N Cryin’ follow this up with a trio of tracks that mix hard rock (“Fly Me Courageous”), Southern roots (“Broken Hearts and Auto Parts”) and everyman sentiments (“Straight to Hell”). Blues Traveler finish off disc one with reminders that the group can combine strong songwriting with hard-driving groove (“Carolina Blues”) and its historic place in the jamband scene on the jam-heavy “New York Prophesie.”
The second disc presents samples from the Phil Lesh & Friends and Gov’t Mule sets. Here, Lesh is accompanied by the powerhouse unit of Haynes, Herring, John Molo and Rob Barraco. Together, they give “Loose Lucy” a thunderous bounce, jam their way into “Tennesse Jed” and finish with the rumbling might of “Night of a Thousand Stars.” The selections indicate not only the chemistry among the musicians but that there was much more to be mined from this grouping. With two more years ahead before Gov’t Mule found a permanent replacement for Allen Woody, the selections featuring a rotating cast of players with Haynes and drummer Matt Abts. Set regulars “Blind Man in the Dark” and “Sco Mule” remain solid while a cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Almost Cut My Hair” gets the Mule’s power blues treatment. A prophetic Haynes takes on Dylan’s “Masters of War,” 15 months after the second Iraq War began. That leads into a jam of “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Like the rest of The Benefit Concert, the talent on hand empowers the spirit of the moment, resulting in the Neil Young cover to become much less chaotic than it could have turned out. During that final fade, thoughts turn to the only complaint so far with these benefit albums — the lag time between releases.