For what was to be his final tour, Daniel Johnston selected numerous bands and artists to serve as his backup band. Choosing friends and avowed fans to accompany him assured that his backup bands contained musicians who understood his music. For his Northwest dates, Idaho’s Built To Spill backed Johnston. Such a choice proved fitting, as frontman Doug Martsch has covered Johnston a number of times. As tribute, Built To Spill compiled their rehearsals and released it as Built To Spill Plays The Songs of Daniel Johnston.
To their credit, Built To Spill wisely honed in their tendency for long, heavy jams and guitar solos. Instead, they arranged the songs as Johnston intended: breezy, simplistic, and childlike. Furthermore, they avoided the obvious Daniel Johnston songs, opting instead for choice cuts from all corners of his career. One might not be as familiar with newer fare like “Queenie The Dog” and “Honey I Sure Miss You” or more obscure tape numbers like “Good Morning You” and “Heart, Mind, And Soul,” but Plays serves as a fine introduction. “Fish,” a bizarre little love song taken from Johnston’s 2003 Mark Linkous-produced Fear Yourself, finds Martsch and Johnston becoming one in song. Only on “Fake Records Of Rock And Roll” does the band really rip into the material and reveal their personality. It’s a shame they didn’t do more of that here, but then again, their personality isn’t Plays’ focus.
Ultimately, Built To Spill Plays The Songs of Daniel Johnston isn’t a Built To Spill record.; it’s the sound of a band serving a greater talent. As such, If you’re a new fan coming into it with such expectations might be disappointed. Although one wishes they had done more of that, that’s but a minor quibble. Indeed, Plays serves its subject well and shines a light on the darker corners of a talented songwriter’s catalog.
Purchase Built To Spill Plays The Songs Of Daniel Johnston: Ernest Jennings Record Co.