PopMatters' writer Evan Sawdey has spent the better part of 2009 creating a tribute album for a songwriter that absolutely no one has ever heard of. Then he made it free for everyone.
Just to get it out there in the open, what you are reading is a bit of a shameless plug -- yet few shameless plugs are as fun as this one.
You see, I wouldn't be here writing for PopMatters if it wasn't for a guy named Benjamin Durdle. Ben was the guy who got me into recording songs, which has become one of my favorite hobbies in life. Am I any good at it? To be totally honest with you: no, not really -- but that's almost beside the point. Although I had always been a fan of pop music, it was Ben -- the guy with keen underground sensibilities and an infectious love for actually recording whatever musical inkling dripped into his head -- who opened me up to several new bands and the very concept of how music production works, which inevitably was one of the major things that lead me to become the writer that I am today.
So after knowing him for about a year, Ben eventually went on his own path but kept sending me songs he had done by his lonesome: simple voice-and-acoustic numbers that were intensely personal yet incredibly moving. He was turning into a true confessional kind of singer-songwriter, but I don't even think he knew how good he was. As the years went on, the songs he sent me got better and better, yet he -- like me -- never viewed his songwriting as anything more than just a hobby. He became one of those people that you meet in your life that exhibits an unbelievable amount of talent in a certain area but they don't really want to pursue it in any sort of professional context. So, last March, after I realized that I was in the midst of recording my fourth overall Durdle cover, I decided to unleash his talent onto the world in the only way I knew how... by making a tribute album.
There's only one problem: I had no idea how to make a tribute album.
Although it had started as a kind of a "Hey, wouldn't this be fun?" kind of idea between my more musically-inclined friends, the idea for a Durdle tribute album soon turned serious as I realized how important this was becoming to me. Though I got a few of my close comrades to contribute tracks, I soon began reaching out to other groups -- bands I had respected and were signed to labels and things -- thinking that "Hey, the worst they can say is no!" Much to my surprise, there were a great many of groups that said yes, and even some that said "no" in very polite/possibly awesome ways (getting a turn-down letter from Nick Cave's management slapped a big huge grin across my face). People agreed and soon recorded songs in studios on their own time. They did not seek compensation. Some groups even asked for notes, and contributed multiple versions of the same song. I was overwhelmed by the response, but -- more than anything -- I was overwhelmed by the music.
And so it is here that I can say that Good With Words: A Tribute to Benjamin Durdle actually exists -- against all odds. It launched on Christmas of this past year, and -- as has always been my sticking point towards this -- it is 100% crazy-free. Incredible artists like Will Stratton, the Marches, the Hoot Hoots, Cami + Dave, Motorcycles Are Everywhere, and many more (including PopMatters' own David Abravanel!) all drop in to cover songs that pretty much no one has ever heard up to now. Hearing each new track come in was one of the most incredible experiences of my life: actually hearing these groups from all over the country take a leap of faith and redo songs from a guy that they've never heard of before, and making them even better in the process. The disc jumps genres pretty wildly (psych-rock!, electronic freakouts!, folk music with vocal harmonizing!, metal!), but that's part of its charm: everyone did their own thing with these tracks, and some of the results surprised even me. Yet, when all is said and done, and the last note is hit, there are fewer things that I can say I'm truly proud of being a part of.
So you might be wondering: what was Ben's reaction to all this? I mean, wouldn't it be weird if you were writing songs as a hobby and then out of nowhere an entire album emerges with tons of artists covering your tracks in tons of different styles ... and you had no idea it was happening? In truth, I didn't know what Ben's reaction would be, but when he found out, he was overwhelmed with emotion. He was humbled not only that people had liked his songs enough to record an albums worth of covers, but also by the fact that these talented musicians all just took some guy's own bedroom recordings and made some delightful insanity out of it. And now, you can hear the fruits of that labor.
As I mentioned from the onset, this is a shameless plug through and through, but if I'm doing it just this one time, I'm mighty proud to say that it's for this reason. Enjoy.
Good With Words [MP3 album download]
The Hoot Hoots
Beyond the Pale [MP3]