Plays The Songs Of Daniel Johnston

Built To Spill

Ernest Jenning Record Company, 2020

REVIEW BY: Pete Crigler


Well, here’s an interesting record. Inspired by being his backing band for his final shows, Doug Martsch, the leader and only original member of Built To Spill has put together an interesting collection of covers of the legendary Daniel Johnston’s solo catalogue. This being Built to Spill’s first independent record since 1994 and second without his longtime bandmates, Martsch strips things back considerably from previous BTS records. And, yes, they are the original BTS.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opening track “Bloody Rainbow” is a nice lo-fi ramshackle jam keeping with the spirit of Johnston’s original work. Nowhere on this disc will you find five and eight-minute rambling jams; everything here is way more concise and therefore easier to digest and enjoy than previous BTS records. There’s some really pretty material here, such as “Heart, Mind And Soul” and “Honey I Sure Miss You.” It’s a testament to Johnston’s method of working that even without the simplistic guitar work and Daniel’s less-than-powerful voice, the songs still come across as really great indie rock from a time when any outsider could strap on a guitar and inspire new generations of wannabe rockers.

Even though this music was recorded about two years ago and was then delayed because of Corona, it sounds very fresh and provides a nice change of pace from what BTS have done for years. Everything here is simple, sweet, and easy for the average listener who might only be vaguely familiar with Daniel and some of his best work to find something they would like.

Just listen to something like “Mountain Top” and try not smile at how great a track it is without much effort at all. This is another testament to Daniel and his ability to put together a great track. There was a double-disc tribute to Daniel around 2004 that featured the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, TV On The Radio, and others, and there are quite a few superior tracks as opposed to BTS’ version. For example, Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes does a great version of “Impossible Love” while Martsch and Co.’s version doesn’t quite reach the same peak. Matter of fact, the record takes a dip towards the end and isn’t as exciting as when it began.

But what we have here is an endearing tribute to one of the unsung icons of what became alternative rock and we can be forever grateful for the music he gave us.

Rating: B

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