Various Artists

Various Artists
The Beatles 1968/Portland Maine 2018
The Maine Embassy

Of all the Beatles albums for Maine artists to honor, their 1968 self-titled double LP — a.k.a. The White Album — is probably the most appropriate. Compared to the studio perfectionism that defined Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the year prior, The White Album was strikingly down to earth, relying on simple folk and blues arrangements to do everything from mourn a neglectful parent to croon about a sheepdog. More than any Fab Four release, it valued authenticity over polish, much like those of us who call Maine home.

Portland musician Jeff Beam, working under the aegis of a new local-music website called The Maine Embassy, has compiled a 50th anniversary White Album cover project featuring 30 local acts, each tackling one track from the legendary two-record set. Like the source material, The Beatles 1968/Portland Maine 2018 is a hodgepodge of ideas; some remarkable, others safe, a handful ill-conceived. Five of the Eyes pour jet fuel on “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” transforming the bluesy curiosity into a hard-rock hailstorm. Greasy Grass gives “Back in the USSR” the indie–Flower Power treatment, dialing back the tempo and cranking the reverb. Sibylline delivers a chillingly deconstructed rendition of “Revolution #1” – the female trio’s whisper-quiet three-part harmonies and plucked violins giving lines like “We’re just doing what we can” an entirely new meaning in 2018 America.

But for all the talent on display, it’s a little redundant for this new take on a classic of the canon to be so reliant on guitars — two-thirds of it, by my count. This compilation could’ve used more risk-takers and fewer rock purists. When the jazz trio Micromassé gives their instrumental take on “Glass Onion,” the change of pace is as refreshing as Peter Dugas’ organ runs. Same for Sunset Hearts and their yacht-rock dreamscape version of “Good Night.” When folk-bluesman Eric Bettencourt invites Spose to rap on “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road,” it’s exciting until a limp piano vamp and some forced Beatles puns halt the momentum.

I know it’s unfair to look at this well-made and well-intentioned project as a reflection of society’s ills, but I can’t help but wonder what this comp would sound like if Maine didn’t have such a woeful lack of racial diversity. The White Album, indeed.

— Joe Sweeney