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Audio CD, May 15, 2007
2-CD set honoring the epic Clash release to be issued May 1 on 00:02:59 Records
Features The Smithereens, Camper Van Beethoven, Jon Langford & Sally Timms, Amy Rigby, Katrina Leskanich (Waves), Wreckless Eric, Willie Nile, Matthew Ryan, Stew, Sex Clark Five, Sid Griffin & Coal Porters and more; proceeds benefit two Clash-backed charities.
BOSTON, Mass. - Sandinista!, recorded by The Clash in 1980, was one of the most ambitious records in the history of rock 'n' roll. According to one of its biggest fans, author and journalist Jimmy Guterman, "It wasn't necessarily their best record, their best-selling record, or even their most enjoyable record, but it's an exciting, sprawling mess that I return to constantly." Guterman liked it so much, in fact, that he took it upon himself to amass a tribute as ambitious as the album itself - 36 tracks by nearly as many different artists.
On May 1, 00:02:59 Records - a label named after a lyric from the Sandinista! song "Hitsville U.K." - will release The Sandinista! Project as a two-CD set, with profits split between two charities - Amnesty International (heartily supported by The Clash) and the Joe Strummer Memorial Forest, which is a division of Future Forests, an organization fighting global warming.
In preparing the Herculean task of commissioning 36 songs to correlate with Sandinista!'s own 36, album producer Guterman called upon artists with whom he'd admired over his years as a journalist. Initial reactions were generally along the lines of "That's the craziest idea I've ever heard." The second reaction, following a brief pause, was "I want in."
Guterman received enthusiastic commitments from such artists as The Smithereens, Camper Van Beethoven, Jon Langford & Sally Timms, Amy Rigby, Katrina Leskanich (Waves), Sid Griffin & Coal Porters, Willie Nile, Matthew Ryan, Stew, Sex Clark Five and many more. Some recorded faithful tributes, other nearly dada-esque abstractions of the songs in question. And many boasted their own organic thread to the Clash, the song in question or both.
For instance, Katrina Leskanich of Katrina & the Waves, seemed a natural for "Hitsville, U.K." After all, her hit, "Walking on Sunshine," shared the same bass line as "Hitsville U.K." which was borrowed from Motown's "You Can't Hurry Love." Jon Langford & Sally Timms from the Mekons took "Junco Partner," originally a James Booker new Orleans R&B hit, and returned it Stateside as only two British punk expatriates can. Sid Griffin, a native of Kentucky who has since migrated to the U.K., tackled "Something About England," a powerful ballad about British deterioration, and turned it into a bluegrass stomp.
Singer/songwriter Matthew Ryan, who had already recorded "Somebody Got Murdered" on his 2001 album Concussion, donated the track intact. Labelmate Willie Nile's streetwise take on "Police on My Back" recorded for this project, also appeared on his own 00:02:59 album released in 2006. Steve Wynn, frontman for The Dream Syndicate and more recently the Miracle3, had been the subject of a double-disc charity record, and got into the spirit with a cover of "If Music Could Talk." And if you ever wanted to hear "The Call Up" performed on theremin, The Lothars provide you that opportunity.
There is even a track from a dedicated Clash cover band, London Calling of Chicago, whose "Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)" displays what Guterman calls "a sharp, spirited cover by a sharp, spirited band."
And there are several more stories to be gleaned in The Sandinista! Project's 36 tracks - "Washington Bullets" by Phil Rockrohr & the Lifters, "Kingston Advice" by Camper Van Beethoven," "Silicone on Sapphire" by The Blizzard of 78 featuring original Sandinista! producer Mikey Dread - all chronicled by Guterman in the liner notes.
Guterman sums it up: "Joe Strummer once said that Sandinista! is 'a magnificent thing. I wouldn't change it if I could.' And now, join us on The Sandinista! Project, in which we change everything on that magnificent record."
Even those who prefer the punch of the Clash's classic London Calling to the sprawl of the subsequent Sandanista! will find plenty of revelation here. Spearheaded by rock journalist Jimmy Guterman, the project accentuates the original album's expansive range through a roster of artists that is transatlantic, transgenerational, and transgenre. Jason Ringenberg (of Jason and the Scorchers) and Kristi Rose transform "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe" into a hardcore country duet, while Katrina Leskanich (of Katrina and the Waves) puts plenty of bounce into "Hitsville U.K." The versions of "The Magnificent Seven" by Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers and "Police on My Back" by Willie Nile remain true to the the Clash's hard-rocking spirit, with the loopy atmospherics of Wreckless Eric's "The Crooked Beat" and the Lothars' multi-theremin arrangement for "The Call Up" exploring the outer fringes of the album's musical adventurousness. This project has the musical strength, variety, and inventiveness to stand on its own, but it will likely do what tribute albums should: Drive listeners back to the source. --Don McLeese
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But too often, many of the songs are tiring novelty numbers that are more cutesy than interperative, and some of the lazy covers are simply bland. It's fun to hear the disco meets cold war, "When Ivan Meets G.I. Joe", as a corny country and western duet, but fun only once. And certainly something more novel could have been applied to "Mensforth Hill", which originally was a song from side one played backwords on side 5. If you're a Clash fanatic, hollowed ground is trampled upon when the climactic, war and peace mongering, "Corner Soul", is interpreted as if it were an Elton John number.
If you're that Clash fan (had all the albums, all the imports, shed a tear when Joe Strummer died), you'll stand behind SANDANISTA!, regardless how you feel about it, as you would behind an impossible, problematic brother. You'll defend it, hate it, love it, and stop just short of throwing the whole damn thing atop a book burning pile. So while this is a worthy project, (aren't all tribute albums?), it is, for me, unfriendly packaging. Designed like the original album, with a faux newspaper, (The Armagideon Times), I take exception to the smug light Seinfeld-like humor of the accompanying comic strip with representatives of two generations, (now and then), discussing SANDANISTA! in a Starbucks. And if you read the 2007 Armagideon Times Update, you may cock a pierced eyebrow and spit everytime the writer attests to generally hating tribute albums, (this is SO tribute album), and labelling side 6 from the original album as "evil", and unlistenable. It's always been my favorite side, and much more contemplative and listenable than the other 5 sides of the original vinyl.
But I digress, as SANDANISTA! is prone to make me do. This tribute album is certainly as worthwhile a listen as the original work which I once called, "London Calling's ugly sister". It opens the door again to the conflicted, chaotic follow-up to the brilliant "London Calling". It causes one to consider Joe Strummer's historic legacy, and his strange creative left turn mess of an album that is SANDANISTA! He's probably out there somewhere, still rebelling against heaven.
POSTSCRIPT, 11/2/09 - I said, "Corner Soul" is trampled upon and is interpreted as if it was an Elton John number. Funny what time does to music. It is now my favorite track on the disc. I don't know how I missed it's exceptional and haunting quality. Some amateur reviewer I turn out to be.