The “tribute” or “charity album” doesn’t exactly conjure up thoughts of classics. Try the Leonard Cohen tribute album Tower of Song on which Bono mumbles a rap on his world-techno version of “Hallelujah”, while Sting teams up with The Chieftains to create an Irish-jig interpretation of “Sisters of Mercy”. But there are two upcoming tributes to musicians that are set to change that image, by tastefully celebrating the musicians – Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous and singer-songwriter Tarka Cordell – to whom they are dedicated.
Tragically, both musicians took their own lives. Linkous, whose five critically acclaimed studio albums have influenced indie artists including Bright Eyes and Ed Harcourt, shot himself in the heart in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2010. He was 47. It wasn’t his first encounter with death. A lifelong sufferer of depression, 14 years earlier, while on tour, he collapsed in his London hotel room after overdosing on alcohol, antidepressants and valium. When found several hours later, he suffered a heart attack that left him medically dead for some minutes.
Cordell was a singer-songwriter born with the best of connections. The son of Denny – the massively successful producer of records for the likes of The Cranberries and The Moody Blues, and who made his name producing Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” – had a rock’n’roll lifestyle since childhood. He was taught to play guitar by Keith Richards, had a musical mentor in Evan Dando of The Lemonheads, and, socialising with the beautiful and famous, would go on to date Liv Tyler and Kate Moss. He was half-brother to Sam Cooper, Lily Allen’s husband. But the man who seemingly had everything hanged himself in 2008 at his Notting Hill home in west London at the age of 40. He had been recording his solo album Wide Awake in a Dream.
Now the musician friends of both these artists have come together to record albums, reworking the songs of their friends in tribute to them. Tarka and Friends: Life is an especially wonderful record in that it brings to the fore songs that might not otherwise have been heard. An album devoted to a lesser-known artist is the best tribute of all; Cordell’s music will find champions in fans of Lily Allen and Evan Dando, and the other musicians, who appear on Life.
The album was the brainchild of Tarka’s elder brother Barney, following his death. On an album that is a faithful reworking of his tender songs, Tarka’s talent for writing sensitive songs with delicate melodies is apparent. Lily Allen covers the particularly touching “Shelter You”, her velvet, understated vocals a caress over slow-paced, mournful guitar, while Evan Dando performs “Lovely New York”. When the album is released on Monday, the proceeds from the sales will go to Calm, a charity aiming to prevent male suicide in the UK.
In testimony to the impact of Linkous’s music, such huge names in the indie world as The Flaming Lips, Mark Lanegan, Mercury Rev, Califone and Jason Lytle of Grandaddy have contributed, while Dave Fridmann, who worked with Linkous for several years as a producer, has mastered the album Last Box of Sparklers – A Tribute to Mark Linkous. The project was started by husband-and-wife team Ted and Jessica Richardson. Jessica, a long-standing fan of Sparklehorse, enlisted her producer husband to help her get started on her intention to create an album that would be “the Farm Aid or Live 8 for mental health”. They produced the album under their charity devoted to increasing awareness about mental health, Box of Stars. “When we realised using music to start a new dialogue about mental health could have a far-reaching and positive impact, Box of Stars was born,” explains Jessica.
It happened that Dave Fridmann and Marc Fuller, a producer at Edie Road Studio, were working on their own tribute album to Linkous. Undecided over how they would release it, they joined forces with the Richardsons, and handed over the tracks they had already completed. To raise funds for the project, the Richardsons used the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, raising almost all the $50,000 target through offerings of CDs, vinyl and downloads of the album, as well as signed goods from the musicians contributing. The result is a 23-song double LP of Sparklehorse songs covered in varying styles. A taster of what’s to come, two tracks can be streamed on Soundcloud: The Flaming Lips’ version of “It’s a Sad and Beautiful World” is effects-laden psychedelia while The Joy Formidable’s take on “Gold Day” bursts into expansive heavy rock. The album will be a reminder of the huge talent that was Mark Linkous. And for Tarka Cordell, his songs finally have the audience they deserve.
‘Tarka and Friends: Life – A Tribute to Tarka Cordell’ is out on Monday. ‘Last Box of Sparklers – A Tribute to Mark Linkous’ is out soon. See www.indiegogo.com