Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Can't Shake That Tune: A Tribute to Fountains of Wayne

I used to say I wasn't a big fan of tribute albums. But I was wrong. I'm actually a huge fan of tribute albums when they're well-done, and otherwise I just find them unsatisfying. This past weekend, I came across one that absolutely blew me away. Can't Shake That Tune was compiled by Radiant Radish Records in the wake of the shocking news that Adam Schlesinger had passed away from complications of COVID-19 on April 1st. It's hard to overstate what an incredible pop band Fountains of Wayne was, and the songs of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood were a particularly huge influence on the bands and artists represented on this collection. Obviously, all of these tracks were home recorded. Some are pure solo efforts. Others involve full bands. Some feature the contributions of family members. But each track turned out amazing, and I'm awed to hear so many talented individuals create such beauty out of heartbreak. A bad tribute album would just make you wish you were listening to the original versions. This one allows you to hear a lot of these songs in a new light, and it ultimately reminds you of how great they are. You'll actually want to play the album the whole way through - and then spend the next several hours immersed in the Fountains of Wayne catalog.

One thing I love about this compilation is that the song selection was handled perfectly. You could easily do a double or triple album tribute to Fountains of Wayne and not run out of gems, so clearly it would have been a shame if only the "obvious" choices had been selected. But it also would have been kind of disappointing if those bigger songs had been omitted. With these 14 tracks, you get most of the hits and a few deep cuts as well. As infuriating as it can be to hear Fountains of Wayne described as a "one hit wonder", there was no way you could have done this comp without someone covering "Stacy's Mom". Johnathan Pushkar, who had the guts to take on "Hackensack" on his marvelous debut album, gives "Stacy's Mom" a remarkable transformation that highlights what a perfect pure pop song it is. Speaking of "Hackensack",  Jonathan Pretus from The Breton Sound turns in an absolutely stunning version that has me falling in love with this song all over again. Some of my favorite people in pop music appear on this compilation, and they did not disappoint. Sunset Odds is Wyatt Funderburk collaborating with Todd from Vista Blue, and they go semi-obscure with the pre-FOW demo "Raise the River" and The Ivy tune "Get Out of the City". Vista Blue turns in a typically Vista Blue sounding cover of "The Senator's Daughter" off of Utopia Parkway. American Wood, which is Todd and Mike from Vista Blue, produces a straight-forward yet utterly fantastic version of "Denise". Mike also turns up with his wife Donna as Soft Spots, who do a delightful indie pop rendition of "Sink To The Bottom" from Fountains of Wayne's self-titled debut album. Christian Migliorese from The Feels and Tattle Tales strips "Troubled Times" down to just voice and acoustic guitar - accentuating the sheer beauty of the original.

One of the best things about a well-done tribute album is that you inevitably discover artists you hadn't heard before. One of my favorite tracks on this whole collection is a version of Traffic and Weather's "I-95" by Sweet Diss and the Comebacks. A quick click of a link sent me straight to a really great Sweet Diss album from 2012 that is as pop as pop can be. And after diving into the discography of The Wellingtons (who do a terrific acoustic version of the Welcome Interstate Managers favorite "Hey Julie"), I'm kind of embarrassed that I'm mentioning this band's name for the first time ever.

Can't Shake That Tune is a triumph on multiple levels. Of course it's a treat for Fountains of Wayne fans, many of whom will stumble upon some new bands to love just as I have. I can also see it working the other way and leading fans of the bands on this comp into a fuller discovery of Fountains of Wayne. I imagine that Can't Shake That Tune will not be the last Fountains of Wayne tribute album we hear over the next couple of years, and I will welcome the arrival of more. But this one has definitely set a high bar.



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