Various Artists – First String Teenage High: The Songs of Tullycraft Played by People Who Aren’t

Various Artists
First String Teenage High: The Songs of Tullycraft Played by People Who Aren’t

Another week, another Tullycraft tribute album. Seems like there’s been a handful of these a month since Sean Tollefson’s untimely death at the hands and feet of an irate traveling salesman back in 2002. This tribute’s more in keeping with the spirit of the band it honors, however, lacking the slumming A- and B-list celebs of the last couple dozen Tullycraft tributes. Instead of the Rod Stewart / Dionne Warwick duets, we get modestly recorded homages from the likes of Murder Beach, Yar’s Revenge, and Kisswhistle. Instead of the overblown schmaltz of a thousand sappy string sections, we get four-track hiss and barely tuned guitars. And instead of perfunctory performances geared more for attention and paychecks, we get passion, emotion, and mystical revelation.
Tollefson, a key figure in 90s indie-pop, released records initially as a member of Crayon and also through his solo new wave moniker of Six Cents and Natalie; Tullycraft, of course, was his primary gig, however, and it’s the body of work with that group that generally receives all the veneration. First String Teenage High, however, looks at the man’s overall body of work, regardless of what band’s name was slapped on the label. Many of the groups on First String Teenage High hew closely to Tollefson’s primary idiom, which is, of course, singing about girls and heterosexual teenage love in as gay a manner as possible.
Invaders From a Forbidden Planet and the Boys’ Star Library both provide excellent examples of such exuberant faithfulness. Boys’ Star, in particular, do a good job with its version of “Stay Cool I’ll See You This Summer,” dramatically improving upon the lackluster original. Other bands de- (and sometimes even re-) construct “Craft classics into vaguely recognizable reconfigurations. Brian Crews, the Bela Fleck of the uke, and leader of the former un-fucking-touchable kings of the downtown Athens boho/hipster/unemployed scene Crewsin’ for a Brewsin’, turns “Bailey Park” into an oratorio for ukelele, pennywhistle, and box. This is the only song Crewsin’ for a Brewsin’ recorded during their tumultuous 13 months of existence; that fact alone should render this record a required listen.
Other highlights abound: Eric Metronome’s Spoon-esque take on the Six Cents and Natalie medley “Spoiler / Need To”; My Place in Space’s unhinged pop madness as evinced on “Superboy and Supergirl”; Beltline’s broken music box rendition of the Elizabeth Taylor lament “The Lives of Cleopatra.” Those grizzled vets Boyracer proffer a punchy, trebly, feedback-drenched version of “She’s Got the Beat” that sounds like a Boyracer original. Blister Fist is so faithful to Six Cents and Natalie’s “Surfer Girl” that singer Jeff Morrow (brother of actor Rob Morrow) sounds exactly like Tollefson. Bugs Eat Books tackles “Sweet” with manly grit and lawyerly tenacity. Dipstick & Eggnog, the coordinators of this project, finish off the official record with a spirited run through of the title track. After that are a couple of bonus tracks by unspecified artists, one of whom sounds suspiciously like Jimmy Hughes, the proprietor of BumbleBear Records, and member of Boys’ Star Library and Dipstick & Eggnog.
At any rate, First String Teenage High is a fine little compilation, featuring a number of up-and-coming indie-poppers playing the songs of a twee-pop cornerstone. At least a couple of Tollefson’s best songs are missing, including Crayon’s “Reason 2600,” but most of his best work is represented. As far as tribute records go, this is a pretty good one. It’s a shame Mr. Tollefson will never be able to hear it. Unless, of course, they have jam-boxes and mail-order in Heaven.