Tribute albums, as a rule, are problematic beasts. Everyone wants to pay homage to the amazing musicians who inspired them, which is great. In some cases, the one being paid tribute to was never as “successful” (read “financially successful”) as the acts covering their songs. In some cases, the opposite is true. Either way, tribute albums are tough to produce.
Typically, you have a number of different performers working in a vacuum creating individual tracks. Those tracks are then compiled and issued as a tribute record. Inevitably mixed in quality and in style, most fans will find these collections as hit-and-miss affairs, depending on how much they like the participants and the songs chosen.
Generally speaking, better reviews and overall quality go to those tribute albums that have a cohesive element, a collection of artists working together to interpret and re-invent songs from their hero’s catalog. These will be more of a niche release, but for fans of the performers and fans of the artist being paid the tribute, these are generally the bigger win.
We, at The Revue, love music, and we love the idea of tribute albums, so here is a list of our favourites, and the reasons why.
Smells Like Bleach – A Tribute to Nirvana
With a cute double-reference title, and many heavy hitters from the first and second generation of punk rock on the list, this album wins on several levels. In spite of the label’s (Cleopatra Records) ability to churn out a billion of these “Punk Tributes” in the early 2000s, this one kills. It boasts a Ramone (Dee Dee, the coolest one) doing “Negative Creep”, UK Subs take on “Stay Away”, and The Vibrators provide a sweet version of “Come As You Are”. Not for the average Nirvana fan, this one is more about some of the bands Kurt Cobain loved paying homage back to him. Some of the bands, you’ve never heard of. But it’s a cohesive and raucous tribute from start to finish. Even Canadians DOA get in on the action with “All Apologies”, and San Francisco legends Flipper take on “Scentless Apprentice” (bonus points for this, as Kris Noveselic ended up playing in Flipper for a while after this record came out).
I’m Your Fan- The Songs of Leonard Cohen
Dating back to the mid 1990s, many buzz-bands from college radio joined forces on this killer tribute to Uncle Leonard. Pixes. R.E.M. That Petrol Emotion. Holy cow…it’s like our entire 90s record collection (ok ok, cassette collection) exploded and built this masterpiece. The songs have been re-interpreted by so many, so often, that the album may seem superfluous. But something about Leonard Cohen songs always brings out the best in everyone. A true classic.
We’re a Happy Family – A Tribute to Ramones
This one is, admittedly, more of a mixed bag. A lot of BIG NAMES contributed to this album, which came shortly after Johnny Ramone passed away in 2003. With so many BIG NAMES each doing their own thing with the songs, the results are often a bit jarring. Red Hot Chili Peppers do a great take on Havana Affair. Rob Zombie kills (in a bad way) “Blitzkrieg Bop”. Metallica metallicize “53rd and 3rd”. The Offspring sound like The Offspring doing “I Wanna Be Sedated”. The real winners are Garbage (“I Just Wanna have Something To Do”) and Eddie Vedder/Zeke doing “I Believe In Miracles”. However, the off the charts winner of this Ramone-love-contest is the most surprising track here. Kiss do a version of “Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio” that is powerful, fun, and timeless. We are pretty sure this is the only time Kiss have appeared on a Tribute Album, and it’s a rare showing of restraint and humour on their part.
Way to Blue – The Songs of Nick Drake
Nick Drake holds a unique place in the annals of pop music history. Arguably unknown in his lifetime, he made friends who believed in his talents and did everything they could to help this gentle, troubled young man. That “cult of Nick Drake” has expanded and expanded over the decades since he passed away, and his 3 perfect albums (yet, PERFECT albums) keep falling on new ears. Part of that undying love for the man and his work means that his albums have always been in print, even if they sold only a few copies per year. That cult of fans and friends has grown in numbers, and they are fiercely protective of the artist and his music. This goes past mere fan-love. Nick Drake fans act like protectors, like older siblings who want their boy to be Ok. It’s heartwarming, and that’s the best word to describe Way To Blue. The acts performing these songs (with Nick’s original bassist and producer in tow) show their adoration for the man and the material. It’s almost as good as Nick’s albums, and captures their original melancholy tone near perfectly.
It should be no secret by now that a good portion of us at The Revue are huge My Morning Jacket fans not to mention Son Volt and Centro-Matic. So when we heard that Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, Jim James, and Will Johnson were collaborating on an album to commemorate the 100th birthday of the great American folk singer, Woody Guthrie, we were 5-year old kids on Christmas Day. While Farrar, James (known as Yim Yames at the time), and Parker were individually responsible for certain tracks, the 17-song album is cohesive and tight. Much of it had to do with the four of them being the sole musicians on the album, and they worked closely together to perfect each track. It’s not just one of the great tribute albums ever produced; it was one of the best albums recorded in 2012.
Beatallica – Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band
This is one strange, but fun tribute to two of the most influential bands of their respective genres and eras. Beatallica combines the music of The Beatles and Metallica in a way that’s incredibly witty with some top-quality musicianship. Their first official record was Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band. The songs are titled things like “…And Justice for All My Loving”, adding to the all around awesomeness of this record. Below, check out their take on “Enter Sandman” and “Taxman”. The album is a fun tribute to two quite different bands.
Various Artist – Through The Static and Distance: A Tribute to Jason Molina
Jason Molina, the man behind Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., and the amazing catalog of music produced under those monikers tragically passed away at the age of 39 in 2013. His music was an inspiration to many of our favorites, including My Morning Jacket and Strand of Oaks. Timothy Showalter of Strand of Oaks even wrote a beautiful tribute song “JM” on his 2014 album Heal. Through the Static and Distance finds many like minded musicians, including Small Sur, Sharron Kraus, The Verm, Marissa Nadler, and many more playing tribute to this remarkable artist that clearly impacted so many in his way too brief time with us.
Rave On – Buddy Holly Tribute (Various Artists)
No doubt Buddy Holly was a pioneer of early rock ‘n roll, so it’s only fitting that some of the best artists in music came together and created Rave On as a tribute to Buddy Holly in 2011. With 19 lovely tracks from the likes of The Black Keys, She & Him, Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, Florence + The Machine, Paul McCartney, Cee Lo Green, Kid Rock, Patti Smith, Karen Elson, Jenny O., Nick Lowe, Justin Townes Earle, Fiona Apple & Jon Brion, Julian Casablancas, Graham Nash, John Doe, Lou Reed and The Detroit Cobras, this tribute album needs to be on your list. The stand out track on the album is “Everyday” by Fiona Apple & Jon Brion, which we are glad to share with you here.
Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath
What do you get when you mix Latin funk and Black Sabbath? You get Brown Sabbath. Austin-based, Latin-funk band Brownout got together and started playing around Austin as Brown Sabbath in 2013 and later recorded and released the cover album in 2014. As you are reading this, you might be wondering what in the world this has to sound like – it’s a very slickly produced mixture of funk, horns and heavy metal which hopefully the iconic metal gods would approve. Without further ado, here is “The Wizard”.
Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix
Let’s be honest – there’s only one Jimi Hendrix. For all the covers of “Purple Haze” and “Voodoo Child”, no one can replicate the unique and powerful sound of Hendrix’s electric guitar and his deep, scratchy voice. But Stone Free is a solid and even at times spectacular tribute. With the likes of Eric Clapton, Robert Smith of The Cure, The Spin Doctors (who were huge in the ’90s), Jeff Beck and Seal, P.M. Dawn, Slash and Paul Rodgers, and Pretenders all contributing, the Stone Free was a hit release. However, the cover that best represents Hendrix is Buddy Guy’s rendition of “Red House”. Leave it to the iconic blues man to show everyone how it’s done.
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