A TRIBUTE TO LED ZEPPELIN
Henry Rollins inadvertently defines "encomium" when he suggests in the liner notes to this Led Zeppelin tribute that there's a secretly encoded message in "Stairway to Heaven" that reads, "We're going to make a lot of money off this thing." And in luring original Zep fans who've now graduated to VH-1 with names like Sheryl Crow, Tori Amos, and Hootie & the Blowfish, Ecomium's producers have indeed guaranteed themselves a natural cash cow. Unfortunately, this makes the inclusion of acts like Cracker, the Stone Temple Pilots, and Blind Melon seem incidental - much like their covers sound. Worst of all, Encomium sounds grossly calculated and safe in the face of two earlier volumes of The Song Retains the Name, tributes that ingeniously turned the Zep legacy upside down with country, rap, and bluegrass takes. Even when the Rollins Band or David Yow and Helmet do take some structural liberties, they're all riff - grossly overlooking whatever subtlety Zep's original arrangements offered. As for the rest of the lazy stabs that seem more about celebrating Zeppelin's sales than about treasuring their songs, it's enough to make Kingdom Come and Whitesnake commendable for at least going through the trouble to pen their own tributes.
1.5 stars - Andy Langer
AMERICA SALUTES THE BEATLES
No, no, no, no! This is not America salutes the Beatles, but rather Nashville slaughters the Beatles. And since John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote some of the most indelible pop songs of the latter half of the 20th century, that's a pretty staggering accomplishment when you think about it. Yet among the 17 tracks here, only one is at all notable: Austin homeboy Willie Nelson's delightfully slinky canter through "One After 909." Aside from that and David Ball's workman-like take on "I'll Follow the Sun," the rest are unimaginative and sometimes even laughable versions of songs that are pretty darn hard to screw up. Aside from the offerings by artists who ought to know better (Delbert McClinton, Huey Lewis, and Kris Kristofferson, who frogs his way through an unlistenable "Paperback Writer"), most of the dross filling this disc comes either from acts whose links with the Beatles' legacy are tenuous at best (like Randy Travis, Collin Raye, and Shenandoah), or those who are so marginal (such as Phil Keaggy & PFR, John Berry, and Susan Ashton & Gary Chapman) that you wonder why they were even included. Considering the ever-descending quality of Nashville tribute albums - first Common Thread, then Mama's Hungry Eyes, and now this collection of crap - the State of Tennessee ought to pass a law against recording any more of these ventures in Music City, because what they do here to the songs of Lennon & McCartney is downright criminal.
1 star - Rob Patterson
TILL THE NIGHT IS GONE:
A TRIBUTE TO DOC POMUS
If one musical figure ever deserved tribute, it's the late Jerome Solon Felder, aka Doc Pomus. Though largely unknown to the general public except through such genuinely classic songs he wrote as "This Magic Moment" and "Save the Last Dance for Me," Pomus was a tough but loving mentor for scores of younger songwriters, and a constant presence at the best New York City club shows (despite being confined to a wheelchair for most of his adult life). As anyone who knew the man can tell you, Doc was an undeniably spiritual presence, and his genuinely human and magically musical soul seems to touch every song here in versions by his friends: B.B. King, Dr. John, Lou Reed; peers: Bob Dylan, Dion, Irma Thomas, and Brian Wilson: acolytes: Rosanne Cash and Shawn Colvin; and admirers: Los Lobos and John Hiatt. Each track seems blessed with something special, and my favorite changes with every listen. One day it could be the way Colvin recasts "Viva Las Vegas" in a moody twilight meditation, or Reed slips "This Magic Moment" into his best street-smart leathers, while on others it's how Dylan, Hiatt, and The Band gleefully rock their way through, respectively, "Boogie Woogie Country Girl," "A Mess of Blues" and "Young Blood." And on any given day, the cuts here by King ("Blinded by Love"), Thomas ("There Must Be a Better World Somewhere"), Solomon Burke ("Still in Love"), and Aaron Neville ("Save the Last Dance for Me") prove Pomus the most soulful Caucasian to ever grace the planet.
4.5 stars - Rob Patterson
FOR THE LOVE OF HARRY:
EVERYBODY SINGS HARRY NILSSON
In the recent glut of kitchy tribute albums, one would be hard pressed to find one that actually pays homage to an artist out of love and friendship. The ways in which this album succeeds far outweigh it's failures. Most importantly, it illuminates the simple and lovely songs of an artist probably most famous for being John Lennon's carousing buddy, and not for writing, say, "The Moonbeam Song" (performed here by Steve Forbert). The album was conceived before his death last year, and all the artists' royalties (who produced their songs out of their own pockets) go to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a cause Nilsson supported after Lennon's murder. The truth of the mission can especially be felt in the performances, from the silly songs - Victoria Williams (with Dave Pirner and Mark Olson) on "The Puppy Song" and Nilsson's fave, Jellyfish, on "Think About Your Troubles" - to the wrenching beauty of buddy Randy Newman on "Remember." With 23 cuts that almost all sound absolutely personal to the artist, For the Love of Harry is just as its titled.
4 stars - Mindy LaBernz
K-Mart and K-Tel: a love affair like Romeo and Juliet. A beautiful and perverse union - which pretty much describes Southern Culture on the Skids' hillbilly porn version of "Venus," or Red Red Meat's quaaludinal take on 10cc's "I'm Not in Love." For more gene splicing, try the A-Bones doing Bo Diddley on the Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat," Vic Chesnutt's quivering delivery of "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," and Susan Voelz's dreamy "Ode to Billy Joe." A dozen sleazy, delicious trysts. They seduce Seventies radio sucklings and fans of gen next music. Even better is that through the hooks of these one-off hits ("Kung Fu Fightin'," "How Do You Do"), one comes to appreciate groups that are still scurrying around the grass-roots level: Rex Daisy, Fig Dish, Big Fish Ensemble, and Brown Betty (all SXSW '95 attendees). Yes, folks, this all-covers-by-"TODAY'S-ARTISTS" K-Tel lookalike collection (volume three) is chock full o' instant favorites, especially if you grew up somewhat Dazed and Confused. Available now, at all K-Marts.
3.5 stars - Raoul Hernandez
The Fabulous Sounds of Now! (Continuum)
Today's youth has a fixation with Jackie Gleason's version of the Fifties. Lord knows why. Is it this? The Rocky Horror cabaret of Andy Prieboy's "Cannot Not," with the creeping bass and the crawling piano? His doom noir wail "you cannot not want me, you cannot not want me?" Is it Lucy Ricardo caterwauling in the background of the Zimmerman's Joabim-esque "Portuguese Woman?" Yes? No? Then it must be Austin faves Useless Playboys palm-leafing it to Ellington's "Caravan," and Friends of Dean Martin doing the dockside buoy clang on Gershwin's "Summertime." Big, lush, ham music, played on the portable over by the fireplace. Swing music to cover the red shag shuffle of people rushing to the ultra-modern kitchen with the latest conveniences for another martini. Music to drown out cold war paranoia or... or Nineties social disease, pestilence, and global deforestation. Oh. I see. Guess it's time for another martini. Jackie, turn up the sounds, baby.
3.5 stars - Raoul Hernandez
EAR OF THE DRAGON:
THE FIRST-EVER COMPILATION OF ASIAN-AMERICAN ROCK & ROLL
Forgive me for having the ear of the pig, but the only thing this record arouses is one question: Why? It's an intriguing enough concept, collating 20 subterranean U.S. rock bands with at least one member of Oriental descent. Unfortunately, while the concept grabs, little of the music is as gripping. aMiniature, Yanti Arafin, and J Church each uncork some grain-scraping artpunk which totally refreshes in these days of post-Bad Religion radiopunk bland-outs. Damnbuilders scratch a droning violin chord against frantic guitar rock on their track, whilst Chumley recall the overdriven Morley chorusbox guitar sound which drove many a classic midwestern punk record from '82 to '85. Otherwise, unless you're fond of the type of yawn introduction which has become indiepop's stock-in-trade, avoid Ear of the Dragon like you would a rotting dragon fetus run down on the interstate.
1.5 stars - Tim Stegall