Test spin: Cities 97's 'Sampler, Vol. 24' drops Thursday

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | Updated 11/14/2012

New charity CD includes a lot of new names - some of which you may not be able to tell apart.

There’s one song you’ll recognize from an iPod commercial. Another one, your teenage daughters or nieces might know thanks to Taylor Swift (who’s rumored to be dating the singer). Two of them you’ve probably heard way more often than you wanted to over the past year. The one and only track by a local artist has long been a favorite over at competing station 89.3 the Current. As for the rest of the tracks, you may have a hard time distinguishing one singer from another unless you’re an avid listener of Cities 97.

That’s the quick breakdown of this year’s “Cities 97 Sampler.” The 24th volume of the annual charity CD goes on sale Thursday morning at Twin Cities area Target Stores for $25.97. As always, the station (Clear Channel-owned 97.1 FM) is limited by music publishing rules to only sell about 35,000 copies of the disc. Demand may not be quite as high this year compared to last year’s set with Adele and Mumford & Sons, but they are still expected to sell out fast -- the end result of which will be another $800,000 to local charities. Whatever you think of Jason Mraz and his fedora hat, you need to applaud Cities 97 for generating that feather in the cap for our local community.

Mraz is probably the biggest name on “Sampler, Vol. 24.” His tender (read: boring) ballad “I Won’t Give Up” was recorded at his Sept. 16 show at Target Center. The minor hit by Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men, “Little Talks,” was similarly captured during soundcheck at the Fine Line in March (and disappointingly varies little from the original). A few other tracks were recorded at the Brian Oake-hosted “Oake on the Water” lakeside unplugged gigs, including Tristan Prettyman’s “My Oh My” and Haley Reinhart’s “Free” (both songs utterly forgettable).

The rest of the selections in the 19-song collection came straight out of the radio studio and follow the usual raw, acoustic format, including the two best offerings this year: Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time,” which takes on a foot-stomping charm unplugged, and Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied”-- from the iPod commericial -- which actually sounds more hyper-spirited and playful. The stripped-down, organ-tinged version of local rapper Dessa’s “Dixon’s Girl” underlines the song’s powerful quality, whatever the arrangement. As for the two songs you couldn’t get away from over the past year, the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” sounds a tad sleepy here, but Foster the People’s acoustic take on “Pumped Up Kicks” has more of a sharp edge than the awkward version heard on the Current’s “Live Current, Vol. 7.”

Kudos to Cities 97 for recruiting a bevy of new or new-ish artists to promote on this year’s collection, also including Mayer Hawthorne, Missy Higgins, Meiko, Graffiti 6, Tyrone Wells and Taylor’s rumored beau, Ed Sheeran. Now good luck telling a lot of them apart (the tracks didn't come up in my iTunes player). Audio snippets of all this year's recordings and details on how to buy the CD are up on Cities 97's website. The station is hosting a release party for guests or contest winners tonight at First Ave with Prettyman.