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CD Reviews:  Soundtrack: I am Sam

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I first caught wind of this Beatles cover-project around the same time Coming Up and Listen to What the Man Said, the benefit/tribute albums to Paul McCartney, were being released, and I must say the lineup caught my attention. Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, Rufus Wainwright, Sarah McLachlan, Ben Folds, Grandaddy, Stereophonics…it's Medsker 101, the lot of them. The album can't miss, right? 

Wrong. This compilation is a huge disappointment, with many of the cover versions half-baked piss takes and the rest just inferior. There are a few diamonds in the rough, but the rough is that unplayable stuff on the golf courses in Ireland that swallows your ball and snaps your clubs in half. 

First, the good stuff. Sarah McLachlan, who can sing the peel off an M&M, does a simple but gorgeous reading of "Blackbird." Paul Westerberg does an understated version of "Nowhere Man" that hits the spot, and Aimee Mann and hubby Michael Penn do a nifty stripped down version of "Two of Us." Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics puts his Rod Stewart-ish tenor to good use on "Don't Let Me Down," but Rufus Wainwright steals the show from everyone on "Across the Universe," putting more emotion into his vocal than nearly everyone else on this album put together. Anyone who saw Wainwright's show-stopping performance with Moby and Sean Lennon at the John Lennon tribute knows exactly what I mean. 

The rest of the album is filled with covers that are warmed over and, in some cases, mind-bogglingly bad. Ben Harper has nothing to add to, or take away from, "Strawberry Fields Forever" (there should be legislation barring future covers of this song, as it's highly unlikely to ever be matched, never mind topped), and Heather Nova is particularly weak of voice on "We Can Work it Out." The Black Crowes should have gone full throttle on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," pulling out the string section and giving "Drops of Jupiter" a run for its money. Instead, they try to recreate the original almost note for note, and it fails miserably. No one, though, fares worse than Grandaddy does on their stupefying cover of "Revolution," which has not only the energy but also the melody sucked right out of it. The Thompson Twins did a better cover of this, for crying out loud.

Assembling an album of Beatles covers should be based on more criteria than which artists on your own roster would be interested. Take a closer look at the credits, and you'll see that V2 stocked this album with their own artists (Stereophonics, Black Crowes, Heather Nova, Grandaddy), and the album suffers as a result of it. The ironic thing is that the one artist on their roster that could have done something interesting is Moby, and he's conspicuously absent. I Am Sam ultimately falls in the same trap that kills most tribute albums; they didn't pick the right people for the project. 

~David Medsker

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