The Lemonheads

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Varshons Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Inspirations rarely come more inspired than Gibby Haynes, the leader of the Butthole Surfers. For years, Gibby slipped Evan Dando mixtapes, and the Lemonheads leader pays tribute with Varshons, a covers album largely consisting of songs from those cassettes and produced by Haynes. At first glance this pairing might seem odd, but Gibby and Evan are both old hardcore punks with a taste for the strange. Evan may have crossed over more than Gibby, who made a career out of odd, but he never quite abandoned weirdness, with even Come on Feel the Lemonheads collapsing in the murk of "The Jello Fund." All the same, Varshons is easily the strangest Lemonheads record in maybe two decades and it's not so coincidentally one of their best, perched between the ragged, formless mess of their earliest records and Dando's enduring love for sweetly weathered country-rock. Gram Parsons, Evan's longtime idol, surfaces on Varshons, as does Townes Van Zandt, but a truer indication of the sun-warped spirit of the album lies in how the Lemonheads revamp Wire's "Fragile" into country-rock or how scum-rocker G.G. Allin's "Layin' Up with Linda" is given a murder ballad revision that resonates. But Varshons isn't all country -- there's a thick layer of Texas psychedelic haze, a rather ingenious take on Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," a duet with Liv Tyler on Leonard Cohen's "Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye," and, popping out of nowhere, a stiff new wave workout called "Dirty Robot" featuring Kate Moss on lead vocals. This sense of adventure ties Varshons to those earliest Lemonheads records, but the group marries that spirit to Dando's exceptionally intuitive interpretive skills, turning the album into a bit of a rough, unpolished gem.

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