Daniel Johnston

The Early Recordings Volume 1: Songs of Pain and More Songs of Pain (Dualtone)

A gold mine for Daniel Johnston fans and a great introduction for folks curious about the mentally troubled but gifted songwriter, The Early Recordings Volume 1 gives Johnston material previously only available via cassette or download a proper release. The double CD oozes Johnston's odd universe, including pages of Daniel's drawings and liner notes by the Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary and Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black.

But the packaging and documentation become mere add-ons compared to the music. There's that requisite little-kid voice, but this time it's backed by a real piano played with distracted skill and recorded on a tape deck in Johnston's parents' basement. This collection visits his usual preoccupations with love, sex and heartbreak, and Johnston's unfiltered soul is on display, singing about romance, religion and nearly getting creamed by a truck with a skewed lyrical gift that hits that emotional sweet-and-sour spot.

This sampling, while still outsider music all the way, presents a calmer Johnston, writing songs for a girl who "would not accept my call." Plus, the big piano sound is a welcome warmth next to the staccato chord organ he used on Yip/ Jump Music or other later recordings.

While less manic than some Johnston offerings, at times his emotional cup runneth over and static spills out. But the talent is evident, and these recordings are a twisted celebration of existence. Here's a little lyrical gem to drive the point home from "Brainwashed": "We talked of things in the good book while there was a naked lady on TV/She had no care/She had no shame/She had little propellers on."

 
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