The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered
Although his name doesn't ring all that many bells in the mainstream, Daniel Johnston is a veritable American Idol among fellow musicians who respond to the often brutal honesty and unfettered beauty of his work. Johnston -- who, despite the title of this stellar tribute, is very much alive -- has battled mental illness for most of his adult life, a state of affairs that's part and parcel of many of his songs. More important in their creation, however, is his ability to capture both remarkable innocence -- evident here in Tom Waits's appropriately creepy take on the monster-movie homage "King Kong" -- and deep-seated melancholy, as on the rending "Sorry Entertainer," interpreted here by Calvin Johnson. Many of the performers gathered here pay direct tribute to Johnston by sticking as close to his ultra-minimalist style as possible -- most notably Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, who turns in an endearingly lo-fi "Impossible Love," and Mercury Rev, who tear down their usual wall of sound for a whispery "Blue Clouds." Others take Johnston compositions into unfamiliar places: Beck puts his imprint on a shuffling "True Love Will Find You in the End" without compromising the original's wide-eyed hopefulness, while Bright Eyes bring an added tension to "Devil's Town," with the help of Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner. Normally, tribute albums are but a pale imitation of the intended honoree, but the love and dedication present in these renditions make Discovered Covered palatable to Johnston diehards and an ideal entrée for those who have never heard this distinctive artist's music.