Songs for Sixty-Five Roses:
Re-Working the North Carolina Jukebox
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2006, Volume 13, #4
Written by Tracy M. Rogers
Charity compilations are always daunting for critics because they seldom have the cohesiveness of a true album. (In fact, the only not-for-profit-oriented collection in recent memory that contains an organic, thematic flow is Screen Door Music’s remarkable 13 Ways to Live, a benefit for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation). Still, these outings often do have merit, and, at the very least, they offer fans a chance to hear their favorite artists outside the confines of their normal musical settings. Such is the case with the cystic fibrosis benefit Songs for Sixty-Five Roses: Re-Working the North Carolina Jukebox. Much as its title suggests, the 18-track, 67-minute set features North Carolina-based artists covering the work of the state’s songwriters. The outing is the work of Chapel Hill producer and engineer John Plymale — whose daughter Allie suffers from cystic fibrosis — and it boasts performances by such luminaries as Caitlin Cary, Tift Merritt, the Two Dollar Pistols, and Greg Humphreys tackling material by Ryan Adams, Superchunk, James Taylor, and Randy Travis. What sets this endeavor apart from the many like-minded, charitable efforts, however, is that the songs chosen tend to be uplifting and fun rather than maudlin or overly serious.
There are many high points on Songs for Sixty-Five Roses. Caitlin Cary’s dignified cover of Goner’s Battleground Park sets a tale of love between two teenage fugitives to an arrangement of grand piano and strings, while Claire Holley’s wistful version of Harrod and Funck’s Lion Song is heartbreaking in its folk-oriented simplicity. Rick Rock’s anthem-style Buddha, Buddha becomes quirky and humorous at the hands of Robert Sledge (of Ben Folds Five fame) and Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Tom Maxwell and Ken Mosher, and Athenaeum treats listeners to a tongue-in-cheek version of Randy Travis’ Forever and Ever Amen. The album’s true highlights, however, are reserved for the compilation’s conclusion. Greg Humphreys turns the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Bent Out of Shape into a delta-blues-meets-jazz classic. Katharine Whelan’s take on singer-songwriter Michael Kelsh’s Restlessness is a minimalist, old-school country romp about a down-and-out drifter that features light pedal steel touches by Humphreys. Finally, upon first listen, Will McFarlane’s cover of James Taylor’s classic Shower the People differs very little from the original, but after delving more deeply, it becomes apparent that McFarlane has created a more twang-meets-rock landscape.
Outside its North Carolina-based theme, Songs for Sixty-Five Roses lacks cohesion. Nevertheless, it is still a worthwhile endeavor because its tunes lend themselves to a multiplicity of human emotions. Some selections are simply fun; others tell stories of the downtrodden. Some inspire feelings of love; others a sense of loss. The influences and inflections range from folk and country to power pop and blues. All in all, Songs for Sixty-Five Roses is an upbeat experience that is filled with incomparable musical performances by a diverse set of artists who place their own, unique perspectives upon some North Carolina classics. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box