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It’s not a new idea, but somehow it’s more interesting with Daniel Johnston’s songs than with almost anyone else’s: one disc of covers by well-known musician-fans, and a second disc with all the same songs performed by the songwriter himself in the same order.

What’s interesting is that the more sympathetic artists practically turn into Daniel before your ears. Jad Fair, The Eels, Sparklehorse, Calvin Johnson and Vic Chestnutt are not that different in tone and sentiment from Johnston anyway, and their versions of his songs are so reverent they could pass for karaoke. M. Ward, Gordon Gano and Mercury Rev are obviously so taken with Johnston’s trademark sincerity and artless wonder that they seem to copy his vocal style, even his compromised instrumental capabilities. The remaining artists participated probably because they appreciate Johnston’s craft rather than his persona, and their renditions prove what an amazing songsmith he is. Tom Waits’ “King Kong” conveys a fine understanding of Johnston’s famous monster obsessions, while TV on The Radio’s “Walking the Cow” strips his greatest song down to the bones. It’s still great.

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