On June 11 of last year, Chris Knox suffered a life-altering stroke. A critical figure in the New Zealand punk and pop scene (with groups like Toy Love and the Tall Dwarfs), he's as well known for being a supportive and exuberant DIY spirit as for his musical grace and tomfoolery.
So with proceeds going to help Chris and his family, musical compatriots were quick to organize. Legends from the Flying Nun scene — the Chills, the Bats, the Verlaines, David Kilgour (the Clean), and Alec Bathgate (the Tall Dwarfs) — all turn in fine tunes. The Americans really weigh in strong, with nouveau folkies Bill Callahan, Will Oldham, and the Mountain Goats rubbing virtual elbows with pop-pranksters (and therefore Knox kindred spirits) Yo La Tengo and Stephin Merritt.
But the songs that bring the biggest news come from a couple of side stories. Knox's close friend Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) releases his first recording here since 2001, "Sign the Dotted Line," and it's delivered with the big brassy voice and robust strum that Mangum fans have long been missing. Also included is one of the final tracks recorded by Jay Reatard before his death last month — a sparkling version of the stone-cold early-Knox classic "Pull Down the Shades." As musicians continue to struggle with iffy health coverage (remember Vic Chesnutt), it's heartening to see a wholeheartedly practical case for why we should buy music.