In the movie High Fidelity, record store owner Rob Gordon states, "The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art." The Lemonheads leader, Evan Dando, has been receiving mix tapes from his pal Gibby Haynes, of the Butthole Surfers, for years. Varshons - the ninth album by The Lemonheads - is a covers album featuring the 'Greatest Hits' of those mix tapes, with Haynes as producer.
"You've got to kick off with a corker," says Rob Gordon. Varshons does just that with a rarity by the brilliant Gram Parsons. "I Just Can't Take It Anymore" was discovered around 10 years ago after a friend of Parsons found a tape that had been recorded in his bedroom in 1965. Dando takes the basic guitar/vocal structure of the original and adds an entire band, complete with female backing vocals to capture the essence of Gram's solo work with Emmylou Harris. It's an excellent version.
The real star of the album is the cover of GG Allin's "Layin' Up With Linda" - the story of a rock 'n roller that gets bored with his exotic dancer girlfriend and kills her. Dando pulls off the twisted lyrics with as much class as you can while singing, "One day I killed her, now I'm on the run. But living with Linda used to be fun."
Dando's version of "Waiting Around To Die" doesn't lose the sincerity of the original by country-folk legend Townes Van Zandt, whose short, troubled life is apparent:
Now I'm out of prison, I got me a friend at last
He don't steal or cheat or drink or lie
His name's codeine, he's the nicest thing I've seen
Together we're gonna wait around and die
A duo of duets fill out Varshons - Liv Tyler on Leonard Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye" and model Kate Moss on the album's most bizarre song choice, "Dirty Robot," by Dutch electronic group Arling & Cameron. Complete with robotic vocals from Dando, "Dirty Robot" is a tale of unrequited love between the girl (Moss) and the obsessed robot (Dando). It is ridiculous and at the same time, brilliant.
The album closes with "Beautiful" - the Linda Perry-penned ditty that was a huge hit for Christina Aguilera. This song has been covered a bit, most notably by Damian (almost too gay to function) in the talent show scene in Mean Girls; and by the one and only Brett Anderson of Suede. Dando sincerely pulls it off, complete with a cool harmonized guitar lead.
One of the things I love about this album is that there are no dramatic re-workings of any of the songs. Dando sticks to the originals pretty closely and reinterprets them in his own way.
Despite a few weak tracks ("Dandelion Seeds" and "Green Fuz"), this is one of the better covers albums out there. 11 tracks in all and the digital iTunes version contains one bonus track. For the vinyl collector, the record is bubblegum pink.