Music News

Various Artists

Various Artists
Songs For Summer
(Oglio Records)

You've got to give Adam Gimbel props for chutzpah. Last year his girlfriend, Summer Brannin, died of kidney cancer at the age of 21. Gimbel decided to commemorate her death by making a mix tape with some of her favorite bands. But he didn't stop there. He eventually contacted 15 of Brannin's favorite bands and convinced each of them to contribute a song to a tribute album. The resulting disc, Songs For Summer, is a quirky little compilation that sounds more like a genuine mix tape than anything the blockheads at Sony could ever put together.

By that I mean the songs assembled here are genuinely eclectic without ever sounding dissonant. The fare ranges from punk (a grinding live rendition of Pansy Division's "The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out") to pop (the goofy anthem "Summer of Love" by the B-52's) to folk (Jonathan Richman's plucky "That Summer Feeling"). Acid-jazzers Soul Coughing provide a scintillating in-concert version of "True Dreams of Wichita," while Neutral Milk Hotel shows off some lovely band saw stylings on the track "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." G. Love also turns up, strumming out a bluesy, low-fi demo of "Rhyme For the Summertime." And Squirrel Nut Zippers supply the haunting, minor-key waltz "All Along the Frying Pan."

The lesser-known artists here manage to shine as well. The Jazz Butcher turns in a breathtaking cover of the Beat Happening ballad "Indian Summer," while Babacar's torchy "Midsummer" is fueled by Caroline Crawley's mesmerizing vocals and a squalling violin. The disc does suffer from a few moments of excess -- most notably the Sandycoates' mawkish "After the Beach" and a dorky Celtic raveup of "Funky Cold Medina." But these bum notes are few and far between.

Most tribute albums nowadays are little more than a corporate ploy, a way of pimping stale product. But Songs For Summer obviously isn't about generating money; it's about sharing music. All profits from the record -- which is available online at or by calling 800-COOL-CDS -- will be donated to Free Arts For Abused Children.

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Steve Almond
Contact: Steve Almond