Monday, April 21, 2008

Reviews:: A Sappy Records Tribute To Snailhouse

It's really hard to review a tribute album. If a band is good enough to warrant such a release, their fan base will be looking to rip apart any deviation from the original and just as quick to dismiss a faithful rendition of a track with the all too easy, "well, the original is better." Part time fans probably won't know all of the songs and worst case scenario, the list of bands attracts listeners who haven't even heard the originals.

So when I heard the good people at Sappy Records were putting together a tribute to Snailhouse, I have to say I was hit with a mix of intrigue, anticipation and concern. For the last 14 years, Mike Feuerstack has been recording music under the name Snailhouse, and while he's acquired a devoted set of fans, his success has never really bubbled over.

My first Snailhouse experience was in 2003 or 2004 when I saw the band open up for Maritime - on their first trip to Canada - and I remember about 8 people showing up and five of them leaving when Snailhouse finished. They reworked a lot of the material for the show and settled into a poppier and more electro-fused style, and then played as support for Davey's trio. I thought they sounded ok, and filled in admirably when it came to bolstering Maritime's sounds. It wasn't until much later that I sat down with the back catalog and really start to "get" why people loved Michael's songs.

Feuerstack's style doesn't really translate to easy listens for casual music fans. His guitar playing is stripped down, using only enough notes to complete the songs and he covers those desolate soundscapes with only the minimum lyrics needed to express his emotions. It appeals to a certain type of listener instantly, but it's hard to sway those uninterested in his understated confessions.

That's why this tribute album really works. Instead of finding huge bands to draw the crowd, Sappy reached out to Michael's friends, tour mates and peers and the end result is a warm, emotional raising of the glass. The bands know and love Michael and their contributions are sincere takes on his complete catalog. The collection fits the needed criteria - the songs sound great on their own and could play start to finish without anyone saying, "are these all Snailhouse tracks" but they also give fans the chance to compare and contrast the new songs to the old. Some artists stay true to the original - Aaron Booth for example - but many really give Michael the gift of showing how he inspires them.

Rick White's casio-infused take on Birds and Bees transforms the slow, melodic original into a happier, blazer, thin-tie effort. The opening of The Acorn's take on Bell is still minimal, stripped down and sincere, but the finger picked guitar and beautiful cello takes the place of the slow piano. Rolf and friends give you something new, but never lose the listener. That's probably the most amazing thing of Feuerstack's songs. The structure lets people make bold choices and take some risks with amazing success. Colonial Quarrels put a nice jangle on the somber Do You Want to Talk All Night? and you'd never imagine that the original was written for only a man and his guitar so many years ago.

I have to admit the songs that really crackle for me on this release are the more uptempo ones. Shotgun Jimmie kicks up the energy and whimsy on 21 Years and Maritime is able to make Witches and Snowmen sound like a B-side from the Adios era instead of a folky romp. Paperweight changes Silence Show into a trademark indie rock gem. But in the end, the success of this project is how everyone treated this as a gift to a friend. A shared moment, a conversation on the road or one of those glimpses of inspiration or admiration we all share with those we respect the most.


Birds and Bees

Got Created Monsters

Birds and Bees

web site :: buy record from zunior

Posted at 4:18 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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