CD Review of Athfest 10 by Various Artists

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Athfest 10
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Released: 2006
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I’ve written in the past about how the first promotional album I ever received and subsequently reviewed was the soundtrack to the film “Athens, GA: Inside/Out”…and it resulted in many firsts for me, actually. For instance, it was officially the first time I talked out of my ass when writing a review; because an acoustic version of R.E.M.’s “Swan Swan H” appeared on the album, I referenced the original version – which, at the time, I didn’t own – and claimed this new version was better because it didn’t have as much orchestration. There was, of course, absolutely no orchestration on the original (and I have no idea why I thought there was), and the embarrassment I felt at being busted for not knowing what the hell I was talking about led me to be a better researcher. What I’ve never really gone into detail about, however, was how listening to the record…and, yes, it was indeed on vinyl, which says much about my age…introduced me to a concept I’d never really been aware of before: the idea of a city having its very own “music scene.”

Not only was Athens home to R.E.M., it also held claim to Dreams So Real, Pylon, Love Tractor, and the Flat Duo Jets; later, I’d come to discover that it was home to the B-52’s as well…but when you get down to brass tacks, it was first and foremost R.E.M. who put the city on the map as the home of some of the best music in America. And since it has since come to be recognized for bringing us the Drive-By Truckers, the Feelies, Kevn Kinney (of Drivin’ ‘N’ Cryin’ fame), Widespread Panic, the Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power, Vic Chesnutt, and many others, it’s clear the Athens music scene continues to thrive even 20 years down the road from the film that paid tribute to it. A significant part of that longevity can be attributed to a series of CD compilations that have been coming out on an annual basis: Athfest, released in conjunction with the city’s annual non-profit music and arts festival. This year marks the 10th collection in the series, and, in tribute, the 2006 edition is a 2-disc affair; Disc 1 contains 18 tracks worth of new music, while the second disc features 18 of the best songs to appear on previous Athfest sets.

Hyping the best-of disc is at least partially unnecessary, since the work of folks like the aforementioned Drive-By Truckers and Kevn Kinney is pretty well documented as being worth your while. That first disc, however, includes some tracks that’ll have you heading to MySpace to see if any of these artists have their own pages. (In most cases, they do.) An Epic At Best lead off with the “Weight of Words,” which has a soaring chorus and an even better bridge; they’re followed by Don Chambers + Goat, who offer the alt-country “Pig Luck.” R.E.M. pop up with an alternative take of Around the Sun’s “Wanderlust” – one of the best tracks from a depressingly sub-par album – as do the Modern Skirts, who could easily be argued as one of the best bands to emerge from Athens in recent years. Other highlights include the pedal steel of Ken Will Morton’s “Adelayda” and the old-school twang of the Bearfoot Hookers’ brilliantly-titled “I’d Rather Two-Step (Than Twelve-Step).”

So, basically, in case you were wondering, the music of Athens, GA still rules. Is there another R.E.M. amongst their ranks? It’s all a matter of opinion…but if you want to be well-informed before you make a declaration one way or the other, Athfest 10 is a good place to start.

~Will Harris