Album review | INDIE ROOTS-POP

Various Artists, ‘Beck Song Reader’

Once upon a time — OK, a year and a half ago — Beck released a batch of new songs solely as sheet music, and let the world sort it out. Now, along comes an actual album — and you could turn your brain inside out trying to parse exactly what “Beck Song Reader” is. It’s not a Beck album, though he provides one track. It’s not a cover album, exactly; how can you cover songs that weren’t recorded in the first place? (The track order doesn’t mesh with the songbook, either.)

Instead, the disc contains interpretations, by the likes of Norah Jones, Jacks White and Black, and veteran art-pop oddballs Sparks, of songs with no definitive versions off the printed page — which makes Juanes’s Spanish-language “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard” obliquely, hilariously perverse. Many of the contributors give the material a rootsy, rattletrap approach, creating a flat consistency that drags a bit.

It’s not until the second half that “Beck Song Reader” comes fitfully to life with the woozy, Waits-y stumble David Johansen brings to “Rough on Rats,” Jason Isbell’s raucous “Now That Your Dollar Bills Have Sprouted Wings,” and Jack Black’s theatrically impish “We All Wear Cloaks.” And Swamp Dogg’s “America, Here’s My Boy” is a primal lament laced with quiet rage. Of course, this is just one iteration of how these songs might go; countless more are waiting to be made. (Out Tuesday)



ESSENTIAL “America, Here’s My Boy”

Marc Hirsh can be reached at