I love The Band (who doesn’t?), and I also like some of the artists who contributed tracks to this tribute, so of course I bought it. Would I be pleased with this compilation, indifferent, or disappointed? Find out next, in this exciting episode of… The KMA!
Guster tackles This Wheel’s On Fire with a beautiful, shambling rendition. Ray Montagne sits in on harmonica. Bruce Hornsby (now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a coon’s age) and a band called the Noisemakers (did the Range go… out of range?) step up to King Harvest. A decent track musically, though the vocals seem thin… could just be me (and it’s a damn sight better than I could muster anyway). My Morning Jacket offers up a truly lovely, soaring It Makes No Difference. Just like you know they ought to.
Jack Johnson is one of the main reasons I bought this CD. Him doing I Shall Be Released seems too good to be true. Well, the Animal Liberation Orchestra joins in and it’s a respectful rendition. The song’s definitely recognizable and the original comes clearly to mind, while their slightly chunky funky approach makes it their song too. As could only happen on a compilation like this, Lee Ann Womack is the next artist, with her version of The Weight. It’s OK, but not great. All deference to Buddy and Julie Miller on backing vocals, but your twang thing is just not my bag. I’m sure others will love it. The song plods along and Womack does her best y’alternative vocals too. For a female singer’s version that rules, dig into Aretha’s catalogue for her soulful take. Now that’s sweet.
Anyway, Widespread Panic’s Chest Fever is a fuzzy stoner freakout, a soul song (with horn section), a New Orleans funeral dirge and a stomping rocker (with cowbell), all in one. Nice! Then, Gomez’ Up On Cripple Creek is, like the original, suitably funky and grooving. The Allman Brothers Band throws down a really great live version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Perfect band for this tune. Steve Reynolds is a label artist for the makers of this comp, and his take on Stage Fright is cool, but it kept reminding me of other artists. The vocals were like David Gray or Paddy Casey (not that that’s a bad thing), and the cello immediately brought the Barenaked Ladies’ cover of Cockburn’s Lovers In A Dangerous Time to mind. The acoustic guitar work is excellent, here.
And man, Blues Traveler. There’s another band I haven’t thought of since their record Four (that’d be a while ago, now). Well, their Rag Mama Rag is a piano-driven keeper – the work on the ivories here is truly stellar. Popper hasn’t learned his lesson and is still playing way too many notes on the harmonica when he solos, but if we’re surprised by that, anything would surprise us. A good track in spite of that. Jakob Dylan and Lizz Wright’s Whispering Pines is pure middle of the road. Wright doesn’t even show up until it’s two-thirds over and her vocals don’t stand out either. Nice song, not a stand out in this mix, though.
I had to look up The Roches to find out who they are. Their harmonies are lovely. Their odd mix of twang and Irish-ness makes for an interesting Acadian Driftwood, to be sure. Not certain that I’ll need to play it often, but it was good for these purposes. Roseanne Cash’s Unfaithful Servant is actually pretty good – I don’t mean to sound surprised. It’s a credible version of a song that, to me, has always taken a good idea and gone on too long. Oh well. Josh Turner’s When I Paint My Masterpiece is built for y’alternative country radio. Not my thing (again), but so be it.
Trevor Hall’s Life Is A Carnival sounds like he had a cold and gave up enunciating when he recorded it. If that’s his usual vocal delivery, I surely don’t need to hear too much of him in my life. The version itself sounds like a poor man’s Dave Matthews Band (without the instrumental virtuosity). Not a keeper. Jackie Greene, another label artist, takes on Look Out Cleveland. The piano stands out here, the rest is less homage and more note-perfect emulation of that Band sound. Why bother? Good covers stay true but give the new band room to move and sound like themselves, too. And finally, Death Cab For Cutie’s Rockin’ Chair is listenable. It’s the slow song tacked onto the end of the disc, sure. The vocals didn’t do much for me, sure. But it’s still a fairly sweet way to end the disc.
So, in sum? I liked this disc well enough, but I really wanted to like it more. There were definitely some songs that I will skip when they come up, but that’s true of any of these attempts at re-making the genius of an iconic band’s output as a tribute. I’d recommend it, if you’re curious. Of course, you should own all the Band records first. That’s where it’s at. But you’re savvy and already knew that.
You know, it’s a shame the Rheostatics aren’t still making music together. OK, so I know I say that frequently to anyone who will listen on any given day, but their sound and energy would have been an excellent addition to this compilation. And I’ll bet they’d have been up for the opportunity, too.
Also, Gin Blossoms are listed on the roster for this label. Why aren’t they on this disc? I love those guys.