The North Carolina music scene from 1981 through 1984 was ground zero for various acts that spawned an alternative revolution. It was the time of the dB’s, the Spongetones, Let’s Active, the Fabulous Knobs, Southern Culture on the Skids, and many others. These artists would directly or indirectly influence – or substantially impact – such acts as R.E.M., Hootie and the Blowfish, the Georgia Satellites, and more. Hailing from the Charlotte, Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), and Triad (Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem) areas of North Carolina, these artists appear in one form or another on Be Good to Yourself. It’s a 27-track compilation spread across various formats that highlight the best the Tar Heel state has to offer, all the while benefitting fellow North Carolina musicians as they work through addiction, depression, and other mental health issues.
Musicians, like many trades, have seen their livelihoods threatened due to the pandemic. Add the struggles of addiction and depression to the uncertainty of the future of their career choice, and it’s no wonder so many musicians succumb to drug and alcohol dependence and, in some cases, suicide. The creators of the Be Good to Yourself project – bassist Ed Bumgardner, guitarists Rob Slater and Gino Grandinetti, keyboardist Doug Davis, and drummer Chris Garges (who christened themselves the DeFacto Brothers and act as the house band for the album) – felt something needed to be done. They banded together with the nonprofit Abundance NC and MindPath Care Centers to help vulnerable North Carolina musicians get the help they need.
Over the DeFacto Brothers sturdy backing, 60 North Carolina musicians contributed to the project, a veritable who’s who of Tar Heel talent. Bumgardner chose the songs, sequencing them as a loose concept of addiction and recovery, and acted as producer along with Garges and Slater. The songs serve as a wisely chosen rock ‘n’ roll stew, adhering to the project’s theme while offering new spins on familiar classics as well as revealing lesser-known gems to a new audience.
Compilations of this length are usually a mixed bag of varying quality; favorites take precedence while other tracks exist only to take up space. Not here. What’s remarkable about Be Good to Yourself is its consistency. Each song builds upon the last (in no small part due to Bumgardner’s masterful sequencing), and the performances never waver from the 100% complete dedication given by each participant.
Those participants include legends such as Don Dixon and Mitch Easter (who together co-produced R.E.M.’s first – and arguably best – two albums); Rick Miller and Mary Huff of Southern Culture on the Skids; Peter Holsapple (the dB’s, R.E.M., Hootie & the Blowfish); Terry Anderson and Jack Cornell (the Fabulous Knobs, the Woods, the Olympic Ass-Kickin’ Team); Jamie Hoover (the Spongetones); Kenny Soule (Nantucket, PKM, DAG); Rod Abernethy and Robert Kirkland (who, along with Dixon, were part of Arrogance, the pioneering rock band formed at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1969); and John Howie, Jr (Two Dollar Pistols, Rosewood Bluff) with Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown, Tres Chicas).
The less familiar voices here are no less powerful. Charlotte’s Māya Beth Atkins offers a stunning take on the Lucinda Williams track, “Essence”, while Durham’s Faith Jones transforms the Jimi Hendrix classic “Manic Depression” into a sly yet vulnerable plea. Other highlights include the Big Star-like longing pop of “Ruby Beach”, originally by Charlotte’s Houston Brothers, performed here by father-daughter duo Jeffrey Dean and Ava Louise Foster. Speaking of Big Star, Peter Holsapple contributes a heartfelt take on Chris Bell’s poignant, personal “There Was a Light” with Mitch Easter delivering the guitar solo. Easter’s previously unreleased “While the World Careens” is given the power-pop treatment by honorary Tar Heel Bill Lloyd (Foster & Lloyd).
The legendary songwriting talent of Terry Anderson is represented by two tracks on Be Good to Yourself. Rick Miller and Mary Huff of Southern Culture on the Skids offer up a faithful take on Anderson’s ode to cheap wine, “Thunderbird”, while “Betty Ford” takes a look at what happens when the Thunderbird gets out of hand. Anderson himself tackles his sometime songwriting partner (and bandmate in the Yayhoos) Dan Baird’s take on ageism with “Younger Face” (Anderson also wrote two of Baird’s biggest hits, “I Love You Period” and the Satellites’ “Battleship Chains”). Meanwhile, Anderson’s longtime bandmate Jack Cornell delivers a genuinely fantastic version of the Faces classic, “You’re So Rude.”
Elsewhere, Bruce Hazel (of Charlotte’s Temperance League) pummels through Bo Diddley’s (by way of the New York Dolls’ version) “Pills,” complete with Holsapple supplying psychedelic accordion. Temperance League’s own “Sooner Or Later Now” is performed by veteran singer-songwriter (and SC native) Danielle Howle. John Howie Jr and Caitlin Cary team up for a beer-stained version of David Childers’ “Ghostland”, while Robin Trower’s latter-day mood piece, “Dreams That Shone Like Diamonds,” is given an even more seductive, bluesy treatment here by Mike Strauss.
The ghosts of musicians lost due to either over-consumption, suicide, or by other means hover around the arrangements of Be Good to Yourself as a reminder of the project’s urgent mission. Greensboro’s Bruce Piephoff delivers a sinister, knowing take on Justin Townes Earle’s “The Saint of Lost Causes”, while the beautiful work of Neal Casal is represented by a heartfelt, empathic version of his “Free to Go” by Josh Daniel. Both Earle and Casal died from overdose and suicide, respectively, during the making of this project. It drives the point home that Be Good to Yourself is not only one of the best compilations of 2021, it also stands as an urgent call for support, care, and empathy toward those who need our help, now more than ever.