Sunday was the one-year anniversary of Ed Ackerson’s death to cancer, and friends and family of the Minneapolis rock producer/bandleader/guru marked the sad occasion with a joyous new project.
Ackerson’s former label Susstones surprise-released a 30-track tribute album on Sunday, titled “Closer to Heaven: A Tribute to Ed Ackerson” and featuring an all-star cast of Minnesota music mainstays as well as admiring artists from around the globe. It was made available for streaming and download via Bandcamp.
Among the local contributors are the Jayhawks, Motion City Soundtrack, Soul Asylum, the Ocean Blue, Mark Mallman, the Melismatics, Porcupine, Kraig Johnson, Chatham Rise, Magic Castles, the Stress of Her Regard and Two Harbors. The latter’s guitarist Kris Johnson served as producer on many of the tracks.
The cast of non-Minnesotans includes Tanya Donelly of Belly and Throwing Muses fame, the Blake Babies’ John Strohm, the Dandy Warhols, David Poe, the Lilacs and Holy Ship.
Now the president of Rounder Records, Strohm was among the participants in the live tribute to Ackerson at First Avenue in February, which probably would have gone down as one of the year’s best shows even without the pandemic.
The idea for the album actually came before Ackerson’s death at 54 on Oct. 4, 2019, all the way from Sweden, where Holy Ship bandleader Jonatan Westh heard about his illness via Pete Townshend of the Who and wanted to pay tribute.
Westh’s version of “Black and Blue” is a centerpiece of the collection, a song that Ed and his wife Ashley Ackerson released with their band BNLX in the early-’00s. Other songs re-recorded for the tribute go way back to his ’80s bands the Dig and 27 Various, while the title of the collection comes from one of the last tracks released by his ’90s group Polara — reinvented here by the Ocean Blue.
Also over the weekend, Susstones announced a second vinyl pressing for Ackerson’s last project, “Capricorn One,” a whirring and mesmerizing space-rock masterpiece that he recorded while being treated for pancreatic cancer.
All downloads of “Closer to Heaven” ($20) will go toward a 529 education fund for Ackerson’s daughter Annika, who just started kindergarten.
Here’s the full tracklist for the album — for now, that is. Susstones says more recordings will be added to the project.
- The Jayhawks - Got Your Message
- Motion City Soundtrack - Wired Weird
- The Dandy Warhols - A Brighter Day
- The Ocean Blue feat. Ebbot Lundberg - Closer to Heaven
- Soul Asylum - Transformation
- Melissa Gibbs & Tanya Donelly - Like the Poison
- Kraig Johnson & The Program - Light the Fuse and Run
- Mark Mallman - Counting Down
- Two Harbors - Turn On and On
- Holy Ship (Sweden) - Blue and Gold
- John P. Strohm - A+B=Y
- Les Big Byrd (Sweden) - Light It Up
- David Poe - Jetpack Blues
- The Lilacs - Problem With Mary
- SAVAK (NYC) - Send It Through The Post
- The Melismatics - Source of Light
- Magic Castles - So Long
- Justin Courtney Pierre - Idle Hands
- Chatham Rise - Down the Line
- The Boen Arrows (feat. Dan Boen of Polara) - Do Without
- Escape From Minneapolis - Burn the Boats
- Fairchord & Fixer - Wig On
- Jerry Leftowitz (of The 27 Various) - Granny Smith
- Pete International Airport - Song For Mire
- Porcupine - Swoop Factor 9000
- APZOO (Asalto Al Parque Zoológico) (Argentina) - Can’t Get Over You
- Runtom Knuten (Sweden) - A+B=Y
- The People Between - BNLX2day
- The Stress of Her Regard - Sort it Out
- D*omchild - 1929
Here are a couple of the tracks to sample from two of Ackerson's closest hometown cohorts.