Various Artists and Neil Gaiman, Where's Neil When You Need Him? (Dancing Ferret, 2006)

When I first saw the description of this CD, I begged GMR to nab it for review, thinking the perfect complement to our many other Gaiman-related items already up on the site. What a perfectly marvelous concept, asking a diverse group of musicians to draw on Gaiman's vast assortment of stories for inspiration. Suffice it to say I had high expectations for Where's Neil.

Unfortunately, Where's Neil doesn't quite meet those expectations of mine. Oh, it's not a bad CD at all. In fact, it's pleasant enough in its own way. Just not terribly . . . memorable or inspiring, really. Which seems to have skirted the point, if not entirely missed it. With such a wealth of diverse material to draw from, I would have expected a wider variety of song styles, but that's sorely lacking here. There's a lot of electronica/synthesizers and a lot of slow tempo songs. And not a heck of a lot else. No blues, no country, no real folk. No out and out ball to the walls rock. A pity.

The children's book Coraline and the long-running Sandman are both well represented on this CD, with several songs each. Other titles represented include Neverwhere , American Gods, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, The Goldfish Pool, Stardust , The Wolves in the Walls , Mirrormask and "Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch."

Of the Coraline songs, Rose Berlin's "Coraline," with her wispy vocals (presumably the rats chiding Coraline) sticks with me the most. (It has to be said that Rasputina's song is also memorable, but regrettably more because they mispronounce Coraline – with a long e sound -- than for anything else). Of the Sandman-inspired songs, my preference is for the remixed version of Tori Amos's "Sister Named Desire." The best track on the disc, in the sense of embodying Gaiman's work, is the Future Bible Heroes' quirky "Mr. Punch," which tells the violent little tale of Punch and Judy. It's offbeat, catchy and lingers long after you've put the CD away. Thea Gilmore's "Even Gods Die," based on American Gods, is another will remain with you for quite a while. Another that comes close to touching on Gaiman's special blend of magic – tinged with a hint of darkness – is The Cruxshadows' "Wake the White Queen," drawn from Gaiman's joint film effort with Dave McKean, Mirromask. One other track demanded that I replay it as well -- though I'm uncertain of its inspiration -- the ethereal "Raven Star," performed by Lunascape. The remaining tracks really left little of an impression on me, save for the other German track, Jaochim Witt's downright sinister sounding Neverwhere tribute, "Vandemar" (one wonders about Croup).

I should note up front that Dancing Ferret failed to deliver the review copy out in a timely fashion. Why does this matter, you ask? Because the review copy did not come with liner notes. Only a URL to an online copy, which was promptly removed when the CD was officially released. My review copy arrived after that date, which left me scrambling to track down the sometimes more obscure provenance of some of these songs.

While this was a noble endeavour, it fell somewhat flat in the execution. If Dancing Ferret tries a second time, either with Gaiman again, or with a second author, hopefully a more diverse disc will be the result.

Dancing Ferret Discs can be found online here.

[April Gutierrez]