The album, which features artists like The Low Anthem, William Fitzsimmons, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth and Tony Dekker of The Great Lake Swimmers, is based on Kerouac's novel "Tristessa," about a drug-addicted Mexican prostitute.
The project was pulled together by Jim Sampas, a producer who has specialized in musical tributes. He has made albums with artists interpreting songs on Bob Dylan's "Bringing It All Back Home," Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" and the Beatles' "Rubber Soul." He's also a nephew of Kerouac, who died in 1969.
Sampas also produced the documentary "One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur" and accompanying album featuring Jay Farrar of Son Volt and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. The response to those projects encouraged him to further explore the musical possibilities around his uncle's work.
"There's a musicality in both his prose and poetry that worked well," he said.
A few of the participating artists followed Sampas' suggestion and recorded songs using the novelist's own words for lyrics. Others were inspired by the story, he said.
Peter Bradley Adams, one of the artists who recorded a song for the tribute, wrote his own lyrics for "She Has to Come Down."
He's a Kerouac fan but said he didn't know "Tristessa" until Sampas contacted him.
The disc, released this week by the Boston-area firm Reimagine Music, features 19 singer-songwriters and is named "Esperanza: Songs From Jack Kerouac's Tristessa." Esperanza is said to be the real name of the woman who was Kerouac's inspiration for the story.
"Despite what everyone says, there are a lot of people who still read books out there," Adams said. "I hope there's a resurgence of awareness about Kerouac."