Stroke: Songs For Chris KnoxAlbum | Various Artists By Stewart Mason
Despite its unfortunate circumstances, a most effective introduction to an artist who has always deserved wider exposure
That over 30 artists contributed to this two-disc tribute to Kiwi-pop legend Chris Knox following his June 2009 stroke is testament to how universally beloved the singer-songwriter is in the indie community. Alongside New Zealand contemporaries like the Bats, the Chills, the Verlaines, and members of the Clean, there's a full generation of American indie rockers directly inspired by Knox on hand, including Yo La Tengo, the Mountain Goats, A.C. Newman, Bill Callahan, Will Oldham, Lambchop, Portastatic, Jay Reatard and Lou Barlow. (The U.S. edition, released by Merge Records in early 2010, even includes the first new song in more than a decade by ex-Neutral Milk Hotel leader Jeff Mangum.)
But for all the starpower, Stroke: Songs For Chris Knox keeps the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter at its musical and emotional center, with nearly every artist staying faithful to the source material in lieu of radical reinterpretations. But when those songs range from the sugar-sweet "Not Given Lightly" (which could, no kidding, someday be an enormous hit for the likes of Celine Dion) to the sardonic celebration of unattractiveness "Beauty" (here in a clattering 1988 home recording by an impossibly young-sounding Stephin Merritt), the result is still impressively eclectic. Despite its unfortunate circumstances, this is a most effective introduction to an artist who has always deserved wider exposure. And the last two tracks, recorded in October 2009 and featuring a post-stroke Chris Knox himself on wordless but encouragingly coherent lead vocals, suggest that perhaps his story's not over yet.