Buy your ‘Sweetheart’ Starbucks’s Valentine’s compilation

Andrew Hampp

Who’da thunk Starbucks, of all people, would put together the year’s coolest love song compilation?

One listen to the coffee company’s Sweetheart 2005 will make it apparent that a cappuccino isn’t the only thing Starbucks is good at making.

Featuring an achingly hip line-up of indie rockers and uber-cool singer-songwriters even The O.C. couldn’t assemble, Sweetheart is comprised entirely of covers of love songs both ubiquitous and obscure. As a huge fan of inventive covers, this reviewer darted out to the Kent Starbucks immediately upon hearing this.

The CD kicks off to a very strong start with the incomparable Rufus Wainwright’s vocals-and-piano take on “My Funny Valentine.” The quirky cabaret folkie oozes romantic charm all over the Rodgers and Hart classic with a performance so intimate you’d think he was playing a private piano party, just for you, right there on your iPod.

There are several other jazz-inflected covers where Wainwright’s came from. Norwegian indie popper Sondre Lerche channels Chet Baker on a delightfully swingin’ “The More I See You,” while Tricky collaborator Martina Topley-Bird faithfully reinterprets The Flamingos’ doo-woppy “I Only Have Eyes For You” with a few electronic flourishes thrown in to shake things up.

Most impressive, however, is Billie Holiday sound-alike Madeleine Peyroux, who covers the obscure ’30s love ballad “Give Your Mama One Smile” and injects it with a lilting, Country Time Lemonade commercial warmth. It’s like being tucked in good night by a loving southern grandmother.

For the indie heads, Neko Case — the femme fatale of country/blues vocalists — tears up Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” for a cover that’s both mournful and romantic at the same time. It doesn’t hurt that the song sounds like it was performed at a prohibition-era saloon.

For the real indie heads, Akron’s own Joseph Arthur shows up for a cover of The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” which didn’t do much for this non-Smiths fan, but it still serves as an emotional highlight for the compilation. Let’s just say I’d rather hear Arthur sing it than that whiny brat Conor Oberst.

Elsewhere, the Old 97’s Donnie Darko crooner Gary Jules and Luna’s Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips all turn in competent covers of their respective song selections, but a handful of the tracks on Sweetheart were either too obscure or just not as good as the standouts by Wainwright, Lerche and Case.

Luckily for Sweetheart, it finishes with its strongest track of all, “A Nightingale Sang In Barkeley Square,” sung by Alison Krauss-in-training Mindy Smith. It’s not just that Smith’s vocal on this song is so heartbreakingly perfect (which it is), the whole production seems as if it was meant to score the first dance of an outdoor wedding or another special occasion of similarly romantic content.

Smith’s contribution alone sums up the greatness of the Sweetheart compilation, so it is a perfect example of a classy artist performing a classic love song. “Nightingale” and several other songs on this CD will impress you so much you’ll be frustrated.

I mean, it’s bad enough Starbucks is driving out all the independent coffee businesses from college towns and everywhere else, but do they have to corner the market on spectacular artist compilations, too?

Damn you, corporate America, for putting out such a good product!

Contact pop arts editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected]