Mar 16, 2023
By Mark Moody
There’s not much argument that the BBC has a sterling reputation for capturing artists at their finest. The fact that these later era (2003-2011) recordings of Daniel Johnston exist and are being officially released is as amazing as the quality of what’s contained here. Spanning five separate sessions over nine years, Johnston’s fans will no doubt view these live takes as among the best available. And though all recorded prior to Johnston’s Chicago 2017 live album, this later release serves as a brighter reminder of Johnston’s talents and charms that were clearly off a few years later on.
The generous 21-track Love Lives Forever leads with its greatest strength. The first 13 songs, recorded in 2008, showcase Johnston backed by any indie music fan’s ideal supergroup. Longtime collaborator Jad Fair (Fad Gadget) is on drums, James McNew (Yo La Tengo) on bass, and dearly departed Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) plays keyboards. Further accompaniment is provided by Emma Niblett (guitar/vocals) and Kristian Goddard (drums). Several tracks are pulled from Johnston’s 2003 collaboration with Linkous, Fear Yourself, and blow the studio recordings out of the water. The joyousness with which Johnston and his band plow into openers “Mountain Top” and “Fish,” evidence why Johnston is so treasured. Though at times it seems the band might overwhelm Johnston’s vocals, they are also the catalyst that pushes him to the album’s finest and most energetic moments.
These same 2008 sessions highlight bracing takes on some of Johnston’s most beloved songs. The rattle trap percussion and Johnston’s vocals pushed to the point of breaking make “Casper the Friendly Ghost” one of the best tracks here. While Linkous’ choppy keys on “Walking the Cow” and the band’s loose backing on “Speeding Motorcycle” make for charming versions of these songs. The energy is taken down a little too much on the gloomy back to back tracks “Go” and “Love Enchanted,” but Johnston closes out the initial session with a heart warming and impromptu request for the band to join him on what must have been planned as an a cappella close of “Devil Town.” McNew gamely joins him for the brief close.
The balance of Love Lives Forever is primarily more stripped down, with the two-song 2009 session backed only by guitarist Brett Hartenbach particularly standing out. “Life in Vain” and “Living Life” find Johnston in fine fettle and a case could be made for the latter song to be his signature. Though multiple takes over the years of “True Love Will Find You in the End,” make for a solid argument as well.
The backers of Love Lives Forever navigated many obstacles to finally bring these sessions to the public. And unlike many posthumous releases, the album should capture interest well beyond the typical “for completists only” label. Johnston’s vocals fall somewhere below Celine Dion’s on the technical proficiency scale, but his appeal has always been his earnestness and enthusiasm, which are both on full display here. Particularly on the first two-thirds of the album where a handful of indie legends ably help him along. Highly recommended. (Note: Multiple iterations of the release are being made available, including double vinyl and CD versions that include an eight-page booklet.) (www.danieljohnston.ochre.store)
Author rating: 8.5/10
Rate this album
Average reader rating: 4/10
No ratings have been recorded yet.