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Dead Dog's Eyeball - Songs of Daniel Johnston

Kathy McCarty

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Album Review

It's one of Daniel Johnston's many crosses to bear that a number of people embrace his music for all the wrong reasons — given the obvious eccentricities of his performing style (his occasionally sloppy command of his instruments and his high, wavering voice) and the miserable recording quality of many of his best-known albums, he's viewed as an amusing eccentric (or a crazed savant) by much of his audience, whose interest in him is roughly akin to that generated by a circus geek. And the shame of this is that Johnston is a truly gifted songwriter, though one often has to look past the surfaces of his recordings to realize this. Thankfully, Kathy McCarty — former vocalist with the fine Austin, Texas band Glass Eye and a close friend of Johnston — is someone who has stripped back the quirky veneer of Johnston's performances to discover the beauty that lies beneath, and in 1994 she set out to show the world just how strong the man's song catalog truly is by recording an album comprised entirely of his tunes. Dead Dog's Eyeball: Songs of Daniel Johnston features McCarty interpreting 19 of Johnston's more memorable songs, and her strong, clear voice certainly gets his messages across in a more conventionally attractive manner than his, though she's also a superb interpretive singer and is able to bring the emotional nooks and crannies of these lyrics to the surface nearly as well as he can. Just as importantly, McCarty's album also makes a superb case for the diversity of Johnston's music, arranging his songs in a variety of different styles, from the late-night cocktail blues of "Desperate Man Blues" and the jolly beer hall singalong of "Hate Song" to the slow-building balladry of "Hey Joe" and the sad, dreamlike grandeur of "I Had a Dream" — Dead Dog's Eyeball is where the intelligence and wonder of Johnston's melodies finally get their due. Kathy McCarty had trolled through the heart and soul of Daniel Johnston's music on Dead Dog's Eyeball, and returned with a lovely and compelling document of the wonders she found; this is probably the best favor anyone has ever done Johnston's work. Bar/None's 2005 reissue of the album tacks on three worthwhile bonus tracks and three videos viewable on personal computers, including a clip incorporating footage from Richard Linklater's film Before Sunset and Before Sunrise, which used McCarty's version of "Living Life."

Biography

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Kathy McCarty helped make her former band Glass Eye one of the most interesting (if not commercially successful bands) to come out of the Austin, Texas music scene in the 1980s. When they disbanded in 1993, McCarty decided to record an entire album dedicated to the songs of another local favorite, Daniel Johnston. Johnston's songs possess the honesty and pain of the blues and the charm of the best pop music. Most of his recordings — done on a boom box with crude...
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Dead Dog's Eyeball - Songs of Daniel Johnston, Kathy McCarty
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