Any fans of Beck will know that he released an album’s worth of unreleased songs as sheet music, calling on others to interpret the material. And any fans of Winnipeg act Royal Canoe will know that they’ve taken to playing music from Song Reader live. Well, the band has decided that it is high time that they release the songs, resulting in this mini-album, which is available for download on the band’s Bandcamp page and on iTunes. Three of the songs were recorded in the studio, while the remaining four were performed and recorded live. Stylistically, these songs are all over the map, ranging from Spaghetti Western zither (“Eyes That Say I Love You”) to jazz-funk excursions (“We All Wear Cloaks”). However, the failing of this mini-album in terms of its unity has less to do with Royal Canoe and more to do with Beck. Listen, if you were a major recording artist, would you just “give away” your best songs in a rather experimental fashion? Probably not. And that’s the feeling you get with Royal Canoe Does Beck’s Song Reader — that these are just throwaways and nothing of major importance.
Of course, there was a challenge in interpreting these songs as there was no guiding, previously recorded version of this material to draw upon (well, at least at the time the band was playing these songs, as a benefit album comprised of stuff from Song Reader has since been released), and Royal Canoe has risen to the occasion. Mostly. “Title of This Song” is largely built just on vocals and herky-jerky drums, suggesting that the band either wasn’t sure of direction, or Beck’s original vision was sketchy at best. And, overall, there’s nothing that really brings these seven songs together – which, again, could be more Beck’s fault than this interpretation by a relatively new band. Still, this album is worth it for fans of Royal Canoe, considering the fact that the group has built part of its young reputation on performing these songs, and Beck reportedly gave a shout out to the group for posting this material on YouTube. Royal Canoe Does Beck’s Song Reader is an experiment, an interesting one that doesn’t quite always work, but that probably says more about Beck than it does Royal Canoe. Points for trying, though, anyway.