The Late Great Daniel Johnston
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Oct. 8, 2004
The Late Great Daniel JohnstonDiscovered Covered (Gammon) Firstly, don't let the title worry you Daniel Johnston is still very much with us. Half tribute, half greatest hits, Discovered Covered is a 2-CD "prehumous" celebration of Johnston's absolutely unique "Keep Austin Weird" songcraft. Significantly, no local acts are included here, evidence of how expansive the acolyte tent has become since the days of Johnston giving away his Hi, How Are You cassettes at the Dobie Mall McDonald's 20 years ago. With contributions from Beck, Bright Eyes, Sparklehorse with the Flaming Lips, and Guster, the track roster is a who's who of genteel alternity. Some attempt to imbue Johnston's songs with pop appeal, while others take an eccentric tack. Highlights of the former include the heartfelt acoustic uplift of Clem Snide's take on "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievience" and the sunny indie minimalism on the Rabbit's "Good Morning You." By contrast, TV on the Radio's version of "Walking the Cow" remains faithful to both the hypnotic repetition of the original and the band's own loop-addled tension. Tom Waits fully embodies "King Kong," bellowing over breathy beat box rhythms and Marc Ribot's guitar stabs. Not every cover makes a strong impression, but Discovered Covered is the rare tribute album that transcends rote mechanisms of lifetime-achievement-style veneration. Best of all, listeners can compare the cover versions to Johnston's originals on disc two. Whether it's early boom box recordings or more recent studio sessions, hearing Johnston sing these songs is still the optimal window into their unrefined, unabashed power. The goal of Discovered Covered is to help Johnston's parents buy the house next door to theirs, enabling Johnston who has struggled with bipolar disorder for most of his life to live on his own with assistance. Just one more reason to check out this essential overview of Johnston's sad and wonderful songwriting career.