Steve Wilson. On music.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rave On Buddy Holly (Fantasy Records)

Just what the world needs another “tribute” album. With occasional exceptions (the Roky Erickson tribute Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye springs to mind) these anthologies are occasions mostly for pointless retreads or lame-brain deconstructions of familiar music – your appreciation for the individual treatment owing almost entirely to some combination of your feeling for the original material and for the artist who’s approaching it.

But as long as there are great songwriters and performers there will be people who feel motivated to honor them. And Buddy Holly, who would be seventy-five this year, left behind a beautiful legacy in his sadly foreshortened life (he died at twenty-two). Compilation producers Randall Poster and Gelya Robb collected nineteen tracks for Rave On Buddy Holly, drawing from both the current alterna-crowd and the legacy acts who influenced them.

Generally, the older iconic acts have more feeling for this material than the younger musicians. Nick Lowe stays true to the sound and spirit of “Changing All Those Changes;” here he sounds more like the guy who cut Jesus of Cool and Labour of Lust than the middle-aged crooner he’s become. I’ve always held that the Velvet Underground’s guitar rhythms extended Holly’s style, turning his insistent right hand into something more agitated and urban. Lou Reed’s turn on “Peggy Sue” just feels right. Laurie Anderson’s violin playing adds just the right touch of pleasing anti-musicality (think “Tomorrow Never Knows) complementing Reed’s churning rhythm guitar. Patti Smith’s devotional take on “Words of Love,” inspired by Allen Ginsberg concertina mantras, is dear, spiritual and surpassingly selfless. Tony Shanahan's production frames Smith’s vocal beautifully.