What’s most amazing about these all-star performances of Beck’s 2012 sheet-music book Song Reader – complete with a corporate sponsor, just like King Biscuit Time – isn’t how much they sound like Beck songs but how much they sound like the artists who cover them. This is fitting for songs with a purposeful facelessness, written for others to perform. Then again, this is Beck, so there’s also subtle, magical weirdness in even the most straightforward tunes. The best cuts here make that bloom.
Norah Jones dismisses her own heartbreak (“Just Noise”) with dulcet wryness, and fun. find psychosis in a Beatlesque arrangement of “Please Leave a Light On When You Go.” It’s hard to imagine Jack White writing about “A debutante in a tank top/Who’s teaching me how to be free,” but he owns “I’m Down” – giving the hot-miked parlor-room piano and pedal steel a stomping groove drama that makes it all feel simultaneously ridiculous and tragic. And singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane gets kaleidoscopic with the Reader’s pre-war vibe on a dazzling arrangement of “Mutilation Rag,” demonstrating one of the set’s implicit credos: Old-fashioned stuff can be pretty awesome if you look at it right.