CD Review of B-Sides & Rarities by CAKE

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B-Sides & Rarities
starstarstarstarno star Label: Upbeat
Released: 2007
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Even while at Columbia Records, CAKE was always on the fringes of commercial music, so it came as no surprise that when they parted ways with Columbia, they decided to start their own label (Upbeat Records). B-Sides & Rarities is their first release on the new label, and as the title suggests, it collects various covers, live tracks and original tunes that haven’t been released on any of the band’s five studio albums.

CAKE has never been afraid to cover other people’s music; Bread’s “The Guitar Man,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs & Waltzes” previously appeared on the band’s studio releases. So it’s no surprise that eight of the 12 tracks on B-Sides are covers, ranging from a blistering version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” (a live version of the song also serves as the disc’s hidden track) to a groovy cover of Barry White’s “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up.”

For most bands, covering a song is a very dicey proposition. Stay too close to the original and people will call it karaoke. Stray too far away and there will be claims that you have no respect for the original material. CAKE’s sound, which effortlessly draws from a plethora of musical styles, is like the baby bear’s porridge – it’s just right. They’re able to cross genres and pay tribute to a song while never failing to bring their own unique CAKE-ness to the party. As an example, John McCrea’s pipes are smooth, but they don’t compare to Sinatra’s. Still, the sleepy cover of “Strangers in the Night” works because it’s clear that the band isn’t trying to sound like the Chairman – they just want to feel like him.

Country music has always been near and dear to the band’s collective heart. They were one of only a few non-country bands to play at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, California. (And, this fall, they plan to release a live show recorded there.) On B-Sides, CAKE pays tribute to the late Owens by covering his hit, “Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Got a Heartache.” Mel Tillis’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and Kathy Dee’s “Subtract One Love (Multiply the Heartaches)” also appear on the disc. That’s a heck of a lot of heartache, I tell ya.

B-Sides also features two instrumentals. “Conroy” was written by the band and first appeared on the Extra Value EP that was included with early copies of Pressure Chief. There’s also a cover of Piero Umiliani’s “Mahna, Mahna,” a song that most listeners will recognize from “The Muppet Show.”

The last three tracks are live recordings – “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” (recorded in Sydney, Australia), “It’s Coming Down” (recorded in Brussels) and the aforementioned hidden track, a live version of “War Pigs,” which features the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd.

I’m sure B-Sides & Rarities sounds like an incoherent hodgepodge, but given the band’s tendency to jump from genre to genre, it really does work as a full-length. CAKE’s decision to self-release B-Sides makes it even more important that their fans chip in to ensure that the band can continue to make new music. B-Sides & Rarities is available at for $10.

~John Paulsen