VARIOUS ARTISTS (FAWM) – 14 Songs in 28 Days II
(2006 Rebels Trust)
For those of us who can’t imagine writing even one song, the concept of writing 14 during the shortest month of the year is incomprehensible. Yet that is exactly what local songwriter Burr Settles has challenged songwriters around the world to do for a third straight February. And a surprising number took him up on the invitation; participation more than tripled from the previous year, up from 100 to over 350. The second volume of 14 Songs gathers some of the best into an enjoyable and predictably varied collection.
Leading off is “Funny Feeling (Not Exactly Normal)” by Deshead (a Canadian producer), which could have been an outtake from Lou Barlow’s most recent record Emoh. That is, until he rhymes “Wash it down the hard way / ‘cause the whiskey makes me think” with “I’ve got a funny feeling / I’ve just lost you, man that stinks.” Actually, on second thought, Barlow could have written that. Andy Conrad’s “Evergreen” despite its title and snow-covered lyrics (“Evergreen I can’t believe a blossom in the snow”) is pure Jon Brion-style California pop, meaning it’s catchy as hell. Settles’ “Jill of All Trades” is one of his most graceful and aching songs yet, a marked contrast to last year’s lighthearted “Dust Goggles.” Elliott Smith’s influence is all over this dark meditation, from the scrape of the strings to the echo in his hushed voice. It’s easy to see how “Captain I Fear,” by Britain’s Plushbaby, made the cut. It’s a slice of Lemonhead pop pie; they channel all of Evan Dando’s slacker charm, maintaining the illusion despite the piano and kazoo-like keys.
With more to choose from this year, Settles decided to venture beyond the Americana that for the most part dominated the first year’s selections, even recruiting help to pick the best from the more than forty songs he received. The expanded scope may have resulted in the only misstep, the operatic dirge “A Spoonful of Honey” from the Magnetic Nonsense. Even in a collection this diverse it stands out, and not in a good way, and it is especially jarring following the feel-good instrumental “Stars May Fall,” courtesy of Oliver Bixby.
Sometimes the stories behind the songs are as good as the songs themselves. Amsterdam artist and musician Graindog wrote the immensely likeable “Almost in the Sixties” to be one of the soundtracks for installation pieces for an art exhibit he did later in the year. J. Matthew Gerken wrote his song “Kid Gloves Hands Surplus to Big Sugar: Benjamin Harrison” as part of a trio who wrote songs saluting every US president, which conveniently worked out to fourteen each. Whatever their motivation, these songwriters have taken a unique challenge and succeeded, often impressively.