For some, the combination of indie rock idiot savant Jad Fair and the deservedly beloved Yo La Tengo might be a match made in heaven. Given the abrasive and atonal musical possibilities explored by both artists in the past, "Strange But True" could have been an epic summit of avant-garde noise. But it's not.
Instead, it's a charming, minor story-song album that you could almost play for children. Jad Fair talks his way through his odd little pseudo-tabloid tales--all self-descriptively named, such as "Helpful Monkey Helps Wallpaper Entire Home" and "Ohio Town Saved from Killer Bees by Hungry Vampire Bats." (For all I know, these are REAL headlines from things like the Weekly World News, and Fair just invented lyrics for the titles.) It's cute (sweet, even), innocent, clever, and nothing you'd want to hear more than a few times.
Yo La Tengo's involvement is to provide the musical soundtrack to these narrations, and they do a wonderful job, providing a diverse selection of atmospheric backings in their various styles (Fair honks along on sax on a couple of tracks). The album was recorded around the time of "Electr-O-Pura," and you can hear a couple musical ideas from that album turn up here too. Many of the tracks are so good that it's a shame they don't feature YLT songs sung by Ira and Georgia.
Jad Fair is an acquired taste and his fans will no doubt like this. YLT diehards will have to have it just to hear another 40 minutes of music from their heroes. And, as I said earlier, clever children might even enjoy it. But on the whole, "Strange But True" is destined to become a forgotten novelty.