A beautiful tribute
It is safe to say, the alternative genre would be different without the influence of late singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston. His songs inspired multiple artists, including Kurt Cobain, Lana Del Rey, The Flaming Lips and Built to Spill. The trio consisting of Doug Martsch (founder/lead vocals/ guitar), Melanie Radford (bass) and Teresa Esquerra (drums), honor Johnston with their newest album Built to Spill Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston. The album was in the final stages of production when Johnston died of a suspected heart attack on September 11, 2019. Built to Spill was also the backing band for Daniel Johnston on his final tour in 2017. Martsch describes his experience of touring with Johnston in a Rolling Stones interview.
Every song on the album carries the spirit of Johnston. The unique songwriting is what makes the album sentimental and so up-lifting. The songs aren’t hard or complicated, with their simplicity they are capturing, and the lyrics keep people in focus. Built to Spill manages to perform every single line and note so lovingly, the audience can feel the deep appreciation for Johnston’s work. If there is a perfect way to pay tribute to the legend of Daniel Johnston, Built to Spill accomplished it.
While the album might be less lovingly weird, musically, than Johnston’s original work, songs like “Bloody Rainbow” (from Why Me?), “Fish” and “Mountain Top” (Fear Yourself) and “Heart, Mind, And Soul” (from The What of Whom) show the lyrical talent of Johnston. With only a runtime of 34 minutes, the 11-track album showcases a range of emotions while keeping positive melodies; storytelling is a predominant element in songs like “Queenie, the Dog.” Both “Queenie, the Dog” and “Fake Records of Rock n Roll” are from Johnston’s album Is and Always Was.
“Tell Me Now” and “Honey, I Sure Miss You,” both from the Artistic Vice album, are sentimental and dreamy, but they lack the originality of Johnston’s performance. “Good Morning You” (from Respect) has a different feel to it now, with solid acoustic guitar and a clear recording. “Life in Vain” (from Fun) displays the hardship of living with mental illness. Built to Spill performance sounds a little more positive than the original version. “Impossible Love” (from Rejected Unknown) is beautifully re-imagined by the trio.
While the cover version of Daniel Johnston might not be as magical as the originals, Built to Spill created a beautiful homage to the late songwriter. A good cover album lives and breathes with the band’s influence that Built to Spill used their own style to recreate the songs, this makes Built to Spill plays Songs of Daniel Johnston special and a truly amazing tribute. Fans can come together to celebrate the work of both artists.