It feels a little strange putting the Great Lake Swimmers in the “Under the Radar” category. After all, they’ve been recording albums for over a decade – their fifth, New Wild Everywhere, came out earlier this year. They’ve toured the world and elsewhere, with adoring crowds currently flocking to see them throughout Europe. They have nearly 50,000 Facebook fans and hundreds of thousands more around the planet. And yet, they’re still known for being little-known, their ambient-folk sound ever reluctant to cross the mainstream.
When reviewing covers, we generally talk in terms of a particular artist, song, or album being covered. A covers album taking a broader look at a theme or genre comes along relatively rarely. There’s a free new two-disc collection out there that does just that, though, hitting the mark spot on. OndaDrops Vol 4: Oneway Ticket to Nowhere is a collection of contemporary artists covering American country outlaw singer-songwriters from the ’70s. United by the same desire for sincerity, and impatience with the rules and conventions of glitzy Nashville, modern folk/country artists perform songs about alcohol abuse, sleeping around, and living a life on the edge of society.
In September 1973 a unique and mystical patch of Southern California was the site of a heroin overdose, a corpse-napping and a subsequent well-intended, but badly botched, cremation. The deceased was alt-country patron saint/ex-Byrd and Burrito Brother/friend of Keith Richards: Gram Parsons. Just as the Rolling Stones were initially inspired by the likes of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Solomon Burke, there would be a period in the early 1970’s where Parsons would occupy Keith’s attention and briefly influence the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.
Given the broad sonic reach of the “alt-country” genre, one might expect that Paint It Black: An Alt Country Tribute to the Rolling Stones to be a fully plugged in, loud, proud and boisterous salute capturing all the sweat, swagger and energy of the group. But that would require leaning on the Mick Jagger side of the sound. Instead, producer Jim Sampas has chosen to throttle-down, and to lead with Keith (with the Grievous Angel as guardian). It results in an exceptionally cohesive and even-keeled album – a rarity among tribute compilations. That should come as no surprise, though, since we know Sampas for his work on other quality salutes: last year’s Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute to Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, and This Bird Has Flown: A Tribute To The Beatles ‘Rubber Soul’.