Despite the title, Daniel Johnston is very much alive. The paragon of an outsider musician, Johnston is a now middle-aged diagnosed schizophrenic who lives outside of Austin. In the early 1980s, he began writing and recording songs, issuing them on homemade cassettes in Austin, where future tastemakers picked up the tapes and made copies for their friends. It wasn't long before they began popping up all over the country, and Kurt Cobain was wearing T-shirts of Johnston's self-designed cover art on Saturday Night Live.
The music itself was primitive, Johnston accompanying himself on pump organ, guitar or piano, singing in a reedy, cracking voice about Casper the Friendly Ghost, or cows, or, most often (and most affectingly), the love that was always outside of his reach--an "impossible love." All of it added up to something incredibly disarming and heartbreaking.
Discovered Covered is comprised of two CDs, the first of which contains a slew of critics' darlings performing their own renditions of 18 of Johnston's songs; the second is Johnston's original recordings of the same songs, plus one new track.
Newcomers would be well advised to listen to disc two first; you'll only appreciate the care that went into the covers that much more. Some of the brightest spots come courtesy of Clem Snide, TV on the Radio, Death Cab for Cutie, Sparklehorse with the Flaming Lips, Beck, Mercury Rev, Vic Chesnutt, M. Ward and Tom Waits, but all of the musicians involved seem to be here because they truly want to be, not because some label guy thought it would be a good idea. It helps give tributes a good name again.