Published Jul 28, 2014When Beck first released Song Reader exclusively on sheet music, it was such a unique curio that the quality of the music was never called into question. Now that he's recruited an all-star cast of musicians to cover the tunes, however, the project comes with an expectation of quality. In this regard, the album version of Song Reader is a mixed bag of hits and misses, made slightly disjointed by the fact that a different artist performs each song.
The breezy, country-rock sound of the album's first half holds together fairly well. Jack White's take on "I'm Down" is an electrifying standout that mixes graceful rusticity with low end fuzz-bomb blasts, the Moses Sumney-sung "Title of This Song" is doused in elegant soul harmonies and Tweedy's "The Wolf Is on the Hill" finds the Wilco leader operating well within his wheelhouse. Beck himself fronts the compilation's best cut, the soaring psych odyssey "Heaven's Ladder."
The 20-song collection gets increasingly scattershot in the back half, however. Pulp's Jarvis Cocker sounds like a breathy parody of himself on "Eyes That Say 'I Love You'," New York Dolls singer David Johansen attempts to cop Tom Waits' junkyard jazz style on "Rough on Rats" and Jack Black's "We All Wear Cloaks" is slapstick musical theatre.
These head-scratching moments mean that, despite the collection's successes, it probably works better as a sheet music oddity than a cohesive album. Then again, for fans who don't read music and weren't able to participate in Song Reader's initial release, this ought to satisfy the curiosity surrounding these songs. (Capitol)