Various Artists, Rave On Buddy Holly (Fantasy, 2011)

The performers who turned the British Invasion into a musical revolution may have wanted to be the star that Elvis was, but they also wanted to be the singer/songwriter and all-around musician that Buddy Holly was. Despite losing his life in a tragic plane accident over fifty years ago, Holly remains a widely revered figure among rock musicians. This year, nineteen veteran and contemporary acts contributed covers of Holly songs to a collection called Rave On Buddy Holly. Tribute albums generally produce mixed results, and this is no exception.

Ironically, some of the performers I was most looking forward to hearing on this record were the most disappointing. Paul McCartney's version of "It's So Easy" was distressingly messy, for example. Lou Reed's version of "Peggy Sue" was atonal, and just noisy for noise's sake. Both these songs, and several others on the album, ignored the original melodies to a large degree. Given that melody was one of Buddy Holly's strengths, the frequency with which this approach was adopted is extremely hard to fathom, and certainly hurt the album much more than it helped.

On the other hand, some tracks work pretty well. Cee Lo Green does a fun version of "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" -- yes, Elvis' version of this song is a lot more familiar than Holly's, but the song still fits in nicely here. Nick Lowe picks a relatively obscure song in "Changing all Those Changes," but his straightforward rockabilly arrangement is just what the song called for. Patti Smith does an atmospheric, almost spiritual interpretation of "Words of Love" that qualifies as the album's one true improvement over the original. And while I had my doubts initially about Kid Rock doing a Memphis soul take on Holly's classic acoustic ballad "Well All Right," he manages to pull it off pretty well.

Most of the remaining tracks were nice, if not particularly noteworthy. But that's the typical curse of a tribute record; a "nice" cover of a better original is interesting to hear once or twice, and then you'll want to go back to the original. Still, albums like Rave On Buddy Holly are designed to bring the music of the original performer to a new audience, and if a few people go to a record store or search Amazon or iTunes looking for Buddy Holly's recordings because of this album, it will have accomplished a worthy goal.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott

The electronic press kit for Rave On Buddy Holly

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