I never owned this CD, but I did have a dubbed cassette of it; that’s a thing I might even still own. So this is kind of a re-review.
Sweet Relief was put together in order to raise money for Victoria Williams’ recently diagnosed multiple sclerosis. Williams is a songwriter’s songwriter. She’s got a squeaky, always out of tune voice that makes hearing her performances of her own songs a test of fortitude and an exercise in trying to hear what could be instead of what is. So having 90’s alternative rock royalty play her songs was probably the best prescription for her medical bills.
The album is awesome from start to almost-finish. I could do without the last two tracks, but I’m hot on all of the first 11. These sound is amazing and the bands really bring out the best in the songs Williams created. “Tarbelly And Featherfoot” is probably my favorite Lou Reed song. Same goes for “Lights” and The Jayhawks. I might even go there with Pearl Jam’s “Crazy Mary” if I didn’t have my crazy 2003-tour-induced Clockwork Orange-esque aversion to anything they did on that tour. I’m not really into Buffalo Tom, but I love their noisy take on “Merry Go Round,” Evan Dando is as heartbreak-y sweet as every on “Frying Pan,” and we get to hear one of Soul Asylum’s last pre-complete-suck performances in “Summer Of Drugs.” Even the off-kilter “Weeds” (Michael Penn), “Animal Wild” (Shudder To Think), and “Big Fish” (Giant Sand) have some very strong parts.
I know more than one person who went from this album to buying Williams’ albums directly, usually to discover they couldn’t handle her voice. I’ve not really explored her catalog aside from 1994’s Loose. Sweet Relief is a great starting point and, for many, a great ending point.
– “Summer Of Drugs” (Soul Asylum), “Main Roads” (Lucinda Williams), “Crazy Mary” (Pearl Jam), “Merry Go Round” (Buffalo Tom), “Animal Wild” (Shudder To Think),”Tarbelly And Featherfoot” (Lou Reed), “This Moment” (Matthew Sweet), “Frying Pan” (Evan Dando), “Lights” (The Jayhawks)
– “Weeds” (Michael Penn), “Opelousas (Sweet Relief)” (Maria McKee), “Big Fish” (Giant Sand)
– “Why Look At That Moon” (The Waterboys)
Song Notes: After the jump
- Summer Of Drugs – Soul Asylum –
- Main Roads – Lucinda Williams –
- Crazy Mary – Pearl Jam – This is such a great performance of such a great song. But god I can barely hear it through the 2003 tour, and on that I think I even enjoyed this quite a bit. So sad what that tour did to my relationship with this band. I think that might be Victoria doing backup vocals.
- Merry Go Round – Buffalo Tom –
- Weeds – Michael Penn – It’s so off-kilter that you have to be in the right mood to receive it on its terms. And if you do that, it’s not terrible…even kinda good. The instrumentation is really inventive, well done. Probably goes on too long. What is that wonderful instrument with all the grace notes and glissandi in there?
- Animal Wild – Shudder To Think – This came out the year before Pony Express Record. And you can hear them doing some of the bizzonkers stuff they do on that, but this would fit better on the follow-up to that, 50,000 B.C. It’s really pretty good. Definitely like parts of it, but doesn’t quite hold together as a full track. Still, the good parts are huge and awesome enough to full-heart it.
- Tarbelly And Featherfoot – Lou Reed –
- Opelousas (Sweet Relief) – Maria McKee – very good.
- This Moment – Matthew Sweet –
- Frying Pan – Evan Dando –
- Lights – The Jayhawks –
- Why Look At The Moon – The Waterboys – Totally forgot The Waterboys were on this. Well, I forgot a lot about this album. This is easily my least favorite song on the album. But I can appreciate it for what it is, even if it’s not my cup of tea. Or I’m just being sentimental given my sister’s affection for this band. Still I’m going to leave it broken because the beginning and very end drive me nuts.
- Big Fish – Giant Sand –