Various Artists

Songs in the Key of Z, Vol. 2: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music

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If you've heard of this album, you undoubtedly know its predecessor, 2000s Songs in the Key of Z, is an astonishing compilation of the most notable and/or bizarre "outsider" recordings. 2002s companion volume picks up where the first left off, but does not follow the easy path of simply plucking additional songs from the same artists. Most prominently, cult heroes Wesley Willis and Daniel Johnston are absent this time, suggesting that producer Irwin Chusid sought to avoid the vaguely uncomfortable feeling of appearing to make fun of the mentally ill. Thus, most of the "outsiders" in this set are dubiously talented hacks who issued their recordings out of sheer nerve. The results are sometimes comically entertaining, as in the case of Shooby Taylor's psycho-scat rendition of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," and the sadly anonymous striptease warble "Curly Toes." Even better, though, is Congress-Woman Malinda Jackson Parker's "Cousin Mosquito #2," nearly eight minutes of obsessing over mosquitos like Nina Simone on the brown acid within an interpolation of Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C sharp Minor." The remaining selections include a few solipsistic iconoclasts who just don't care how bizarre others think their work is -- Thoth Shmack's fascinatingly titled "The Herma, Scene 5: Recitation/An" being the most curious of the lot -- but a few too many are merely dim and untalented, poorly played, sung and recorded. A rating of sonic quality obviously does not apply to a curiosity collection such as this one, which is valuable to purveyors of pop culture but should not, and cannot, be listened to with any regularity.

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