Bobby Sutliff, with the Windbreakers one of jangle pop’s great underrated songwriters, was in a serious car accident last summer. He spent weeks in the hospital after, and even after returning home (he lives in Ohio now) faced a long, difficult recovery. His friends, led by former Windbreakers partner Tim Lee, put together this tribute album, as well as a benefit concert in Atlanta. The Rain Parade, who backed the Windbreakers in a cover of Television’s “Glory” on the 1985 album Terminal, reunited specifically for the concert. Tim Lee 3 and the Head filled out the bill at the show in Atlanta on January 19th.
The album Skrang: Sounds like Bobby Sutliff has most of the same goals as the concert: to raise money for Sutliff, to show the appreciation of friends and colleagues from the many phases of his career, and to make a case for the songwriter’s enduring relevance and appeal. It includes tracks from 18 different artists, from long-time musical partners like Lee and John Thomas (who played in Sutliff’s early Stones cover band, the Oral Sox) to jangle pop royalty like Peter Holsapple of the dB’s, Matt Piucci of Rain Parade and Russ Tolman of True West. It covers nearly all of Sutliff’s career, starting with John Thomas’ take on “Make a Fool Out of Me” from the Windbreakers’ early EP Any Monkey with a Typewriter and winding all the way through Michael Carpenter’s version of “Long Red Bottle of Wine” from the 2002 solo album Perfect Dream.
There are some medium-sized contemporary names represented – Matthew Sweet joins the Velvet Crush for drone-laced, radiant take on “Second Choice,” while Wilco bassist John Stiratt pulls off one of the album’s most wistfully lyrical intervals in “Girl from Washington” – yet mostly, Skrang feels like a family affair. Nearly every artist in the liner notes has a long-standing, personal relationship with Sutliff. The cuts were done for love, not as sometimes happens with tribute albums, for personal advancement.
So, perhaps it is no accident that the best cuts here come from Sutliff’s closest ties. Tim Lee’s whammy-laced, rough-housing version of “I Thought You Knew” comes from the relatively late-in-the-game At Home with Bobby and Tim, but it reminds you of how jangle pop came out of punk and, in some ways, never entirely left it behind. John Thomas resurrects the rainbow-colored garage glories of early 1980s Paisley Pop in his cover of “Make a Fool out of me.” Matt Piucci, from Rain Parade, brings out the mind-spinning psychedelic guitar pyrotechnics from “That Stupid Idea.” And Russ Tolman reaches back to the final Windbreakers album, Electric Landlady, which he produced, for a droning, organ-wailing plunge into “Devil & the Sea.”
Sutliff is apparently doing better now, and may, in time, be able to write and perform again. (He hasn’t been big on touring since the mid-1980s.) In the meantime, his friends, partners and admirers are keeping his material warm for him, making sure it’s ready and vibrant and in the public eye for whenever he’s able to take it up again.
DOWNLOAD: “I Thought You Knew” “Devil & the Sea” “Girl from Washington”