On the surface, the creators of "The Minnesota Beatle Project, Vol. 1" CD look like savvy geniuses to have picked this year to put out a charity CD of local bands covering songs by the Liverpudlian legends.
For starters, Twin Cities grade-school music programs -- which the tribute album will benefit -- are in greater need than ever, thanks to budget cuts. But 2009 also wound up spawning more Beatlemania than usual via the "Beatles: Rock Band" video game and the newly remastered albums.
"We really had no idea it was going to be this kind of Beatlemania year," confided Vega Productions founder Mark Gehring. "We just thought a Beatles tribute CD is something that always has broad appeal."
"Broad" could be applied in several ways to the project. There's a broad range of local acts, includings hipster stars Mark Mallman, Ice Palace and Jeremy Messersmith (who duets with Solid Gold's Zach Coulter), rootsy favorites like Trampled by Turtles' Dave Simonett and The Feelin' frontman Nicholas Mrozinski, plus suburban bar stalwarts Tim Mahoney and the Casablanca Orchestra. Many of the acts offer up a broad interpretation of the original songs, too, from Messersmith's and Coulter's ambient, organ-tinged take on "Norwegian Wood" to Ice Palace's hazily rocking version of "Strawberry Fields." Best of all, the universality of the material is broadened by the welcome feminine touch of Roma di Luna's Channy Moon Casselle (offering a gorgeous "I Will") and Velvet Lapelles bandleader Lucy Michelle (a wry and winking "Sexy Sadie").
"The Minnesota Beatle Project" will be on sale starting Tuesday in local record stores as well as Schmitt Music outlets, where donations for Vega Productions are also accepted. It'll also be available on iTunes.
Tuesday also happens to be the day of the Twin Cities' biggest annual Beatles fête, Curtiss A's 30th annual John Lennon tribute at First Avenue. Some of the "Project" CD participants will perform at the Lennon bash. The plan is for Romantica (who covered "Something" on the album), Mrozinski ("Across the Universe") and Michelle & the Velvet Lapelles to play mid-show between sets by Curt, who welcomed the extra Beatlemania activity this year.
"Anytime there's big Beatles news, it always seems to happen around this time of the year, like when George died or the Cirque du Soleil thing or whatever they're doing to milk holiday shoppers," he said. "It gives our show a little extra push. But, of course, we tear it up every year regardless."