The story behind this compilation CD is a sad one. Just after the birth of
his second daughter in 2004, North Carolina producer and musician John
Plymale learned that his older girl, then 2 1/2, had cystic fibrosis, a
progressive respiratory disease with no known cure. Plymale decided to
fight in the best way he could by rallying fellow North Carolina
musicians to contribute music to this benefit CD. The CD raises money for
the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, an organization that sponsors the research
that might, ultimately, help his daughter and other victims of this
Yet while Plymale's story is tragic, the music on Songs for Sixty Five
Roses is triumphantly full of life. Its18 tracks are all
covers, written and performed by North Carolina artists. North Carolina
being what it is a hub for indie and roots rock, home to labels like
Merge and Yep Roc and artists ranging from James Taylor to Superchunk
many of the tunes and players are well known. Caitlin Cary turns in a
moving, piano-flourishing rendition of Goner's "Battleground Park," while
Portastatic's jangly, country-flavored take on Ryan Adams' "Oh My Sweet
Carolina" is an album highlight. Tift Merritt's pedal steel-haunted
version of Stillhouse's "It's a Shame" is quite lovely, too, and her
sometime producer Chris Stamey's cover of his ex-band's "Everything Is
Wrong" (it's a Holsapple song, so technically still a cover) is stunning
Yet while the big players acquit themselves well, there are
some wonderful surprises, too. Claire Holley's performance of "Lion Song"
is simply gorgeous, her soft, pure voice embellished only by pristine guitar-picking and sounding a bit like Shawn Colvin. And John Plymale, who started
the whole thing, ably reminds us of NC's jangle-rock legacy with a
buoyantly strummed cover of "Mister Flavor" by the Metal Flake Mothers.
Not all the songs are equally compelling. I could happily live the rest of
my life without hearing James Taylor's "Shower the People" again (here
covered by Will MacFarlane), and Randy Travis' "Forever and Ever, Amen"
is as hokey and sentimental in Athenaeum's hands as it was in the
original. But for the most part, this is good roots-leaning pop and rock,
performed with love and care for a very worthy cause. Let's hope the
research turns out as well as the benefit album, and Plymale's daughter and
others get some much-needed help.