Various Artists

If I Were a Carpenter [A&M]

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Released among a bevy of tribute albums toasting the likes of Charles Mingus and Neil Young, If I Were a Carpenter registers as one of the best of the lot, with spot-on performances of Carpenters classics from the '70s. Unlike many tribute collections, this CD gets it right most of the time, thanks to a lineup of artists suited to the duo's wide-screen pop mix. Matthew Sweet, the Cranberries, Sheryl Crow, Grant Lee Buffalo, and Cracker deliver the most straightforward interpretations here, informing the likes of "Solitaire" and "We've Only Just Begun" with the same amount of moody tenderness that made the originals so effective. On the other end of the spectrum, Sonic Youth gives "Superstar" a nicely claustrophobic and feedback-addled turn, while Bettie Severt brings its Neil Young-inspired guitar attack to bear on "For All We Know." On other fronts, Shonen Knife and Babes in Toyland contribute giddy lo-fi readings and Dishwalla and 4 Non Blondes go in for brooding swagger. Finally, American Music Club and Redd Kross get special mention for their tailored-made and respective helpings of despair and dreamy '70s sensibility on "Goodbye to Love" and "Yesterday Once More." And, while being impressed by the sheer range and originality of these interpretations, listeners will also discover the overlooked songwriting talents of Paul Williams, Roger Nichols, Leon Russell, Neil Sedaka, and Richard Carpenter. A must for the post-punk-savvy Carpenters fan.

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