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Various Artists

A Tribute to the Left Banke

(Brobdingnagian)

A Great Compilation Album? You Better Believe It

I’m giddy like a schoolgirl watching TRL, and it’s all because of a comp.


A comp.


Isn’t that sick?


Compilations aren’t supposed to be great. Compilations are supposed to be good, at best. Compilations are supposed to have a cutesy theme or show off all the bands on a label or, more often than not, serve as a cash cow for a label with a big back catalog (yeah, what’s up, Matador?). Compilations are not supposed to feature 22 bands and make you want to buy all of those 22 bands’ releases.


Compilations are not supposed to score a nine out of 10 on the PopMatters review scale. Compilations are not supposed to be as fantastic as A Tribute to the Left Banke.


Here’s the story with reviewing this disc: Going into it, I knew nothing about the Left Banke, except what I could find on the ‘Net. I knew “Walk Away Renee” like everyone else. That’s it. But I figured I could use a primer on a pretty important band, and the comp had tracks by Ken Stringfellow of the Posies and Jason Falkner, so I put it way at the top of my request list.


And now besides Stringfellow and Falkner, I have 20 more artists that I’m going to request next time their stuff is up for review. And I have to find every Left Banke release that’s still in print.


I’m not exaggerating when I say all 22 tracks are good. There are 71 minutes of music on this comp, and all of them are worth hearing. Not one track is a throwaway. Usually, if half the stuff on a comp is at least OK, it’s considered a success. But everything here is at least OK, and more often than not, the stuff is excellent.


I’m not going to describe every track, but I’d like to do so. I’m impressed that much by each song. But here’s what really stands out: Falkner, of course, and Stringfellow, whose solo track sounds like an American version of the Tweezers with a drum machine. But there are also a bunch of artists I’ve never heard before who totally upstage the two big names on this disc. They are…


The Sun Sawed In 1/2, who do a really sunny version of “And Suddenly” with great harmonizing, and toy chimes, almost like an Elephant 6 band that doesn’t sound pretentious. Awesome. And Frank Bango, who does “Goodbye Holly” with a voice that’s very Elvis Costello, except not cynical at all. There’s Angie Heaton, who takes “Walk Away Renee” and stays true to the amazing original, and yet her version isn’t unnecessary at all. Normally there’s no point in touching a great song like “Walk Away Renee.” But she takes it, barely changes it a bit, and still somehow makes it completely her own. Terrific.


Someone going by the moniker of Jeremy does “Dark Is the Bark” and sounds like the Undertones’ Feargal Sharkey. (That’s good.) The Phenomenal Cats take “I’ve Got Something On My Mind” and treat it with harmonizing that Teenage Fanclub only wishes it could arrange. (That’s…phenomenal.) Blue Cartoon does “Shadows Breaking Over My Head” and make it sound like Burt Bacharach. I need to stop raving…


Look, I know this sounds like a ridiculous amount of praise. But A Tribute to the Left Banke is deserving of all of it. I’ve never been blown away by a compilation before, and after having this one raise the bar about a mile, I doubt I’ll ever be blown away by another. So get this. See that I’m not crazy by giving a comp a “9.” See just how good every band on A Tribute to the Left Banke really is. You won’t just become a fan of one or two of the bands. You’ll become a fan of all of them.

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