In 2017 Built To Spill acted as the backing band for Daniel Johnston during a tour of the Pacific Northwest. While practicing for the tour BTS recorded live versions of Johnston’s tunes and the next time the group entered the studio to work on original material they couldn’t let the cover songs go, the result is this 11 track collection aptly titled Built To Spill Plays The Songs of Daniel Johnston.
This isn’t the first time Built To Spill has covered the artist having recorded versions of his song as long ago as their Normal Years album in 1996. Main creative force Doug Martsch has always held Johnston’s writing in high regard and his band’s overall style fits Johnston’s bittersweet tunes perfectly.
Most of the versions presented here are straight ahead renditions as the band recorded as a trio and kept bells/whistles/experimentation to a minimum. Bassist Jason Albertini highlights opener “Bloody Rainbow” and first single “Love In Vain” giving both tunes a bouncy bump, shifting against the mournful lyrics. Johnston’s Beatles love is pushed forward by Martsch as he strums melodically on “Tell Me Now” before he plays with layers of guitars and effect pedals on the lighter “Queenie The Dog”.
Martsch’s restrained whine is a perfect match for the sweetly sad lyrics Johnston composed. The tunes have a dour scent to them as “Honey I Sure Miss You”, “Good Morning You” and “Heart, Mind, Soul” mix the catchy melodic slow strumming with the straight-ahead honest sadness of Johnston’s lyrics. The best melding of the two frontmen’s styles is on the distant and dejected “Impossible Love” which captures hopelessness and charm.
“Fake Records of Rock and Roll” has drummer Steve Gere getting loose as Martsch amps the guitar noise, rocking loud with feedback and distortion. This lovingly covered collection will not make new fans of either act, but as a loving document to a unique songwriter, it succeeds.