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Building a bouquet 

John Plymale, and the help from his friends

Allie and John Plymale

Allie and John Plymale

You are forgiven, as you carom back and forth between heart-wrenched and heart-warmed, for letting the new compilation Songs for Sixty Five Roses: Re-Working the North Carolina Jukebox pinball your emotions. You're not alone.

That terrible ache is apparent as Lane Wurster recalls the meeting he had with longtime friend John Plymale when Plymale told of his then
2 1/2-year-old daughter, Allie, being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. There's a lengthy, telling silence on the other end of the phone line as Wurster recounts that episode. Choked up, he asks if he can call back.

When the phone rings several minutes later, the inspired half is in full bloom, as Wurster explains that the conversation prompted Songs for Sixty Five Roses, a benefit album for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. (Kids pronounce "cystic fibrosis" as "65 roses.") Wurster details the project's origins and all of the contributions, musical and otherwise.

The purpose of that initial meeting, as Plymale puts it, was to "put energy in a positive direction for something that's not a positive thing." He had sought out Wurster in the latter's capacity as cofounder of The Splinter Group--a creative marketing company that, true to its name, splintered off Mammoth Records when Wurster, Mammoth's creative/art director, and its general manager Steve Balcom decided to seek a new challenge--to brainstorm about a benefit concert for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

"The CF Foundation had been a great resource for him and his wife, Amy, in learning more about the disease and its treatments," explains Wurster. "He felt like he really wanted to give something back to them."

Plymale, sparkplug of legendary North Carolina bands the Pressure Boys and Sex Police and a highly respected producer, sheds more light on the impetus behind that visit.

"My wife was really good at focusing her energy into this Cystic Fibrosis Great Strides Walk," he says. "So she was like, 'You really ought to consider what kind of thing you can do with all your relationships with the artists you know.'"

Several subsequent lunch meetings led to plans for a compilation CD--perhaps a collection that called on those major-artist connections Plymale has made while working with bands like The Meat Puppets and Eyes Adrift--with proceeds going to the CF Foundation. Eventually, the decision was made to build the record around North Carolinians covering songs written by their fellow statesmen.

The concept began with an emphasis on the quote-unquote Chapel Hill music scene, but it quickly expanded across genres and across decades. Just as quickly, folks started coming out of the woodwork.

They approached 18 artists, thinking that maybe 12 or 13 would have time to contribute. All 18 immediately said yes, donating their performances in the process. But the goodwill didn't stop there. The songwriters donated any royalties that might come about. Disc mastering, Web development, photography, legal services and publicity--from Brent Lambert, Kent Alphin, York Wilson, Josh Grier, Amy Barefoot and Angie Carlson, respectively--were all free. Or, as Wurster puts it, "There were daily surprises of what people are capable of."

The Splinter Group machinery was cranking as well. "Without having to sign anything, it was like I signed a half-million-dollar record contract," says Plymale.

But then there are the stories and the songs. Katharine Whalen wanted to record ex-Chapel Hillian Michael Kelsh's ruggedly handsome "Restlessness," so, as Plymale explains in the disc's entertaining liner notes, she flew to Nashville to sing it for him and get his blessing. British producer Neil Brockbank recorded a string section for "Battleground Park," Goner's late-teens docudrama, given glorious voice by Caitlin Cary, and posted the files on the Internet for Plymale to download. Eric Bachmann, who was recording his next Crooked Fingers record in a hotel room on the Outer Banks, drove more than 100 miles out of his way the day before deadline to hand-deliver a CD with his track, an ingenious deconstruction of Let's Active's "Every Word Means No."

"Hopefully, people will be really into the record as an album, in addition to, but separate from, the cause," offers Plymale, his producer stripes still showing. After all, he oversaw a third of the recordings, including Tift Merritt's beautiful roots-soul take on Stillhouse's moving "It's the Shame."

And they will, thanks to such cross-pollinating efforts as the Two Dollar Pistols' Waylonizing of Superchunk's "Driveway to Driveway" and Sledge, Maxwell & Mosher's version of Rick Rock's still-catchy-after-all-these-years "Buddha Buddha." But it's the community spirit--evident in every note and every graphic included--that will help them remember what brought these songs and these people together in the first place. x

 

Songs for Sixty Five Roses was released on March 21. On March 31, more than a dozen of the contributors will perform at a CD release show at Cat's Cradle. And this year's Triangle-area Great Strides Walks will take place on April 8 in Chapel Hill and Durham. For more information, see www.songsforsixtyfiveroses.com and www.cff.org/Great_Strides.

  • John Plymale, and the help from his friends

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