One disc I listened to tonight is Knitting on the Roof. KotR is sort of a tribute to the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, with each song from that show reinterpreted by a different avant-garde artist. The name is a play on the fact that it was put out by Knitting Factory Records, the house label of the Manhattan club, the Knitting Factory.
Most of the tracks on this are just jaw-droppingly horrendous. The banjo-base rendition of "Miracle of Miracles" keeps changing tempo seemingly at random. "Do You Love Me?" is reinvented as a phone conversation with. It's got instrumentation in the background, and if you listen carefully you can kind of make out strands of the song's melody. Kind of. When the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars sing "Tradition," they change the words: "At three I started Hebrew school / At ten I smoked some weed / I hear they found a bride for me / I hope she puts out." Very clever, boys. And then there's the Residents' version of "Matchmaker, Matchmaker." I've never liked the Residents. Your mileage may vary. You be the judge:
There are two exceptions. Jill Sobule's rendition of "Sunrise, Sunset" sounds like, well, everything else Jill Sobule does. It's not really bad, but I'm not sure that that baby-doll delivery works well here. The one good track is Magnetic Fields doing "If I Were a Rich Man." Stephen Merritt's monotone is mesmerizing here, in the same way that Johnny Cash was in those final recordings he did with Rick Rubin.
The funny thing is that my wife has been a fan of Magnetic Fields since before I met her. She tells of how she used to go see them play at The Middle East in Cambridge. She'd sit on the stage and he would insult her clothing. I've given a listen here and there, but I never really took to them. This, however, could start me on the road to fandom. And it alone is enough to make me keep the album.