Fresh Critter Brings Knitters To A New Audience

Artists doing covers of artists doing covers.

Back in the early 80's, when members of L.A. punk pioneers X formed a

country side project called the Knitters, they just wanted to have a

little fun.

X members John Doe, Exene Cervenka and D.J. Bonebrake got together with

standup bassist Johnny Ray Bartel and the Blasters' Dave Alvin to play

some benefits and released just one album, Poor Little Critter on the

Road, in 1985. They wrote a few songs of their own, but mostly they

played covers of old honky-tonk classics.

No big deal, or so they thought.

Fourteen years later, Bloodshot Records' Poor Little Knitter on the

Road: A Tribute to the Knitters proves that their just-for-kicks side

project was on to something. The 13 tracks showcase an unruly chorus of

alt-country young-uns lovingly re-creating Critter, track by twangy

track, with all the charm of a drunken hootenanny.

When you're young and punk as hell, country music sucks. But after a few

years of getting kicked around an America that doesn't give a rat's ass

about your good politics, you just might appreciate hearing something

sad on the jukebox. And a really good country song just begs you to sing

along.

Bloodshot must have known this when they put together Knitter,

because on this record, the sing-along concept is squared: Artists singing

covers of artists singing covers. Add yourself, and the value is cubed.

One of the most charming things about Knitter is the sound of the

womenfolk and the menfolk all singin' together. On the Helen Carter tune

"Poor Old Heartsick Me" (RealAudio

excerpt), Ground Speed's Lawrence Peters' duet with the Blacks'

Nora O'Connor gives the same impression as X's vocals always did: two

people singing as, well, two people. Their voices couldn't be more distinct.

Some of the Knitters' originals stand up pretty damn well; Kelly Hogan

and the Rock-a-Teens' cover of "Someone Like You" (RealAudio

excerpt) is a tear-jerker that needs no apologies. Same goes for

Old 97's' cover of "Cryin' but My Tears Are Far Away" (RealAudio

excerpt) (with guest vocals by John Doe himself). Just plain old

heartfelt country.

The record does have some awkward moments: The Blacks misquote "The New

World," and Whiskeytown's decidedly unsoaring vocals ground Merle Haggard's

"Silver Wings." But all in all, Knitter is a down-home good time

and a fitting tribute to a band that taught a lot of snotty punks (like

me) a lesson about some great songs we might otherwise have missed.