Album: Various artists

The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered, GAMMON
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The Independent Culture

For me, the problem with Daniel Johnston, as with most of rock's outsider artists, has always been the difficulty in gauging the true quality of his songwriting, especially given his rudimentary recordings, and a tendency to focus too tightly on his own strained relationship with the world. That problem is ironed out somewhat by this tribute album organised by Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, who has drafted in some of America's most celebrated indie acts to offer their interpretations of Johnston's songs. At the most basic level, the likes of Thistle and The Rabbit apply a veneer of garage-band competence, while artists such as Clem Snide, M Ward, Beck and Vic Chesnutt prefer subtler, folk-based readings of their choices. At the other end of the scale, a collaboration between Sparklehorse and The Flaming Lips employs the full panoply of pianos, strings and percussion to bestow a lofty grandeur. But there are just too many references to suicide and depression here to enable the solipsistic songs to be con

For me, the problem with Daniel Johnston, as with most of rock's outsider artists, has always been the difficulty in gauging the true quality of his songwriting, especially given his rudimentary recordings, and a tendency to focus too tightly on his own strained relationship with the world. That problem is ironed out somewhat by this tribute album organised by Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, who has drafted in some of America's most celebrated indie acts to offer their interpretations of Johnston's songs. At the most basic level, the likes of Thistle and The Rabbit apply a veneer of garage-band competence, while artists such as Clem Snide, M Ward, Beck and Vic Chesnutt prefer subtler, folk-based readings of their choices. At the other end of the scale, a collaboration between Sparklehorse and The Flaming Lips employs the full panoply of pianos, strings and percussion to bestow a lofty grandeur. But there are just too many references to suicide and depression here to enable the solipsistic songs to be converted intosomething of more general appeal. On the upside, Tom Waits does "King Kong" in the avant-blues style of his latest album, and Eels - no strangers to the need for psychotherapy themselves - bring a weary warmth to "Living Life" that acts like a comforting arm around the song's shoulder.

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