Various Artists, Rave On Buddy Holly

Posted on July 21, 2011 by

Artist: Various
Title: Rave On Buddy Holly
Label: Fantasy 33123
Released: June 28, 2011

Buddy Holly would have turned 75 this fall. Holly may have been the first tragic figure in rock and roll. His two-year glow in the spotlight ended with a plane crash in 1959, taking his life as well as Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, aka, the Big Bopper.

There has been conjecture over where Holly’s career would have taken him. His contemporaries, namely Elvis and Chuck Berry, had long-lasting careers and stockpiled songs to create a legacy. Holly didn’t have nearly the time to create the treasure trove of tunes, but the ample supply he gave us shows he probably would have had the material to march on. Yes, his untimely death created part of his legacy, but it’s his musical acuity we honor more.

Well, maybe we don’t. Have you heard this latest tribute to Buddy? There are few performances contained that capture Holly’s spirit with the acumen of the interpreter. One would think Paul McCartney’s take on “It’s So Easy” would be genuine. Hell, the Beatles were named after the Crickets. Instead, he turns the riff into the chops from “Wild Thing” and then goes absolutely nuts with a spoken interlude. I appreciate a performer putting a personal stamp on a cover version, but Paul sounds like he’s channeling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

And why Kid Rock is included here I have no idea. His version of “Well, All Right” comes off as a cross between Michael Bolton and Tommy Castro. Maybe that’s where the Kid would be better suited, on a Michael Bolton tribute record.

“That’ll Be The Day,” one of Holly’s true signature hits and oddly one that purveyed more bravado than most of his others, gets an apathetic treatment by Modest Mouse. “When cupid short his dart / He shot it at your heart / and if we ever part / then I’LL LEAVE YOU,” emphasized Holly. Even in “Not Fade Away” Buddy would boast about his “love” but his partner could still keep him at bay. Modest Mouse delivers “That’ll Be The Day” as if the couple would never part because they’re too freaking lazy to break up, and nobody would care if they did.

Karen Elson, the former Mrs. Jack White, does nothing to “Crying, Waiting & Hoping” except making it sound irritating. Justin Townes Earl’s “Maybe Baby” shows a little spark with some hand-claps and nice floating background vocals, but his delivery is uninspired. Fiona Apple’s read on “Everyday” is pretty straight-forward, not exceptional, but not irritating, so she succeeds at mimicking her career. She only proves that “Everyday” is a great song, but we all knew that already.

She & Him, a band I usually respect, turn in a really stiff version of “Oh Boy!” I’ll take M.Ward’s take on “Rave On” from his Hold Time LP instead. The version of “Rave On” on this tribute album is by the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas. I just see no reason to play this version over the original. It’s not that interesting of a take. At least with McCartney, it’s so stupid-ass crazy that you want to share it with someone.

A total rhythm-driven version of “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” by Cee Lo Green clocks in a 1:33. The arrangement makes it worthwhile, plus you’re not investing a lot of time into it, just ninety-three seconds of your life. And it’s a good ninety-three at that.

Nick Lowe’s 1:42 version of “Changing All Those Changes” nicely reflects Lowe’s sincerity, which is hard to do because he has greater tendencies toward cynicism. Instead it’s a very nice stripped down awww-shucks-kinda-cover. As is Graham Nash’s “Raining In My Heart.”

The Detroit Cobras work their usual charms on “Heartbeat.” Turning oldies into r&b-laced garage rock is what they do best. Newcomer LA hipster Jenny O does a great version of “I’m Gonna Love You Too,” really capturing the essence of Holly and using her folk-pop sensibilities to pull it off. Her cover I’d put on a mix, Casablancas’ I would not.

John Doe turns “Peggy Sue Got Married” into a dour tune fit for a nouveau-western. And Lou Reed turns “Peggy Sue” into something else. What’s so cool about the Reed covering this song is because Lou is bigger than the song itself. So Lou’s Peggy Sue could be a transvestite hooking for smack, a dominatrix or his drug dealer. We know that Lou’s heart yearns for her and he needs her. Lou’s world differs greatly from Buddy’s 1950’s Lubbock, Texas.

“Dearest” by the Black Keys and “True Love Ways” by My Morning Jacket succeed because of their respective vocalists. True, the Key’s arrangement of “Dearest” sparse moving at the pace of a slightly accelerated heartbeat, is a perfect backdrop for Dan Auebach’s delivery, along with some lilting background voices. This is one of the few winners on the album.

Jim James conveys the same vulnerability that Holly could, but James’ voice is thinner and he sounds like he could crack at anytime. The strings behind a simply strummed acoustic guitar become dreamy when James’ voice is overdubbed about halfway through the number.

The biggest surprise is Patti Smith’s “Words of Love.” I’ve never considered Patti to be a balladeer, but she cuts through with true compassion over a hazy palette. I could always hear vulnerability in Patti’s performances but she is not a vocalist I would turn to for tenderness and she does a stellar job on the interpretation. This is the true standout on the compilation.

I downloaded this collection for $8.99. It was worth the nine bucks to aurally experience the various interpretations Charles Hardin Holley, but I find myself coming back for repeated listenings to only five songs, Smith’s “Words of Love,” The Black Keys’ “Dearest,”, My Morning Jackets’ “True Love Ways”, Lou Reed’s “Peggy Sue” and Jenny O’s “I’m Gonna Love You Too.” I like the Cobra’s cut as well, and Cee-Lo’s too. The Florence & The Machines’ version of “Not Fade Away” is worth a listen too.

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