VARIOUS ARTISTS – 14 Songs in 28 Days: Songs Written in the Month of February, Vol. I
“What are you waiting for… inspiration?” asks the Burr Settles-produced compilation 14 Songs in 28 Days. The CD is a result of his 2005 February Album Writing Month (FAWM) challenge in which songwriters from all over the world attempted to produce a new song every other day for an entire month. Settles did show some mercy by choosing the shortest month, at least. With FAWM 2006 gearing up with even more participants, it is interesting to see what last year’s test yielded. Most selections are of the singer-songwriter variety, so the occasional track that strays from that format is noteworthy. The instrumental “An Exciting Film” by Madcap Ontic (Will Benton of Madison) propels itself along on a line of skittish drum beats and synth. Its trippy melody only sounds simple. Think Orbital-style techno. “Prince George” by the Hobbyists disguises a political rant as a mandolin-based, court jester-type allegory.
The hilarious “Matt Ladish Is on Fire” will come as a surprise to anyone who only knows Blake Thomas’s polished work with the Downtown Brown. His screwball story relates a Monday night at the bowling alley where “There’s pocket whiskey / But it would make me angry / So I’m just sticking to beer” and “There’s a lot of people who vaguely resemble / Other people some of which I don’t know at all.” Huh? Never mind, this piano-plus-all-the-bells-and-whistles tale is a riot. Fireball & the Secretkeepers’ “Driver 9” reflects an attempt by Willis Ferenbaugh (Fairbanks, AK) to write an REM-style pop song circa Life’s Rich Pageant (though the title’s inspiration song “Driver 8” appeared on Fables of the Reconstruction). He succeeds with a jangly pop song as catchy as any Stipe-and-company tune.
Settles’ contribution, the infectious “Dust Goggles (A Love Song),” resulted from a promise to his wife to write a song for her every year. Originally called “Sled Sweater,” it works better as an ode to her construction abilities than one to her favorite sweater. Steven Bacon’s “Drifter” is a moody, lyrically rich song, almost hypnotic in its call-and-response lyrics. Andrew Grimm’s “Without You Now” uses his gruff Chris Shaffer (The Why Store)-like voice in effective contrast to the lovely acoustic guitar of the melody. Ellen Cherry’s concept-album idea to explore the perspective of women in different years resulted in the poignant “1933: To California.” Incredibly, there isn’t a clunker in the bunch. For a compilation in which the only common thread is that the songs were all written in February, 14 Songs works surprisingly well. For full disclosure, Settles did ask me for help sequencing the tracks, but the credit for the disc’s success and of the FAWM project in general goes entirely to him. Hopefully the “FAWMpilation,” as he calls it, will become an annual release.