Various Artists

Music for Mentalists: Unexpected Sounds for the Connoisseur

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"Unexpected" is certainly one word that can be used to describe sounds such as these. Who would expect, for example, a sitar-ensemble version of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"? Or a Yiddish rendition of "Rock Around the Clock"? Or opera legend Cathy Berberian warbling out a bel canto arrangement of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (from her deeply misbegotten album Beatle Arias)? Or the rather aged Max Bygraves with his disco version of "Ma, He's Makin' Eyes at Me" (a recording that reportedly features -- say it ain't so -- Fairport Convention's Dave Mattacks on drums)? Perhaps the more important question, though, is who felt it necessary to ferret out these insane obscurities -- some of which, such as Mavin James' amateur self-production "Together in Iceland" and Martin Harvey's Chamber of Commerce project "Leicester Fiesta," are beyond obscure -- and bring them to light in the full splendor of digital sound? A sticker on the cover alleges that this compilation is the work of members of the Bevis Frond, which makes a certain twisted sense and may well be true. If so, it's the only thing about this album that makes any sense whatsoever. New Orleans jazz legend Al Hirt playing a rather embarrassed-sounding Las Vegas arrangement of the Monkees' theme song certainly makes none, nor do any of the several toe-curlingly awful rap interludes. But as with an impressionist painting of a crying street urchin, all of these tiny dabs of jaw-dropping absurdity and musical despair-mongering work together to create a single monstrosity of kitsch that leaves you in a sort of queasy awe. Does that constitute a recommendation or a warning? Your call.

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