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This is not the Best Album in the World, It is Only a Tribute

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: April, 2005
It seems that every band that ever existed was given drooling praise on liner notes and Sonic Youth was called up yet again to put whoever it was through the racket-filter.
by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: April, 2005
It seems that every band that ever existed was given drooling praise on liner notes and Sonic Youth was called up yet again to put whoever it was through the racket-filter.

Since it seems I am being submerged in a murky pool of tribute CD's here is a list of great tribute ablums from the late 80's - early 90's Alternative Music Era, (and one recent one) the Golden Era of the tribute albums. It seems that every band that ever existed was given drooling praise on liner notes and Sonic Youth was called up yet again to put whoever it was through the racket-filter. But it was a great time for being a music fan, so here are my favorites:

 Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erikson

The skinny: Texas wack-job genius credited with helpng to invent Psychedelic Rock is given praise by mostly non-whack jobs.
The goods: Except for fellow nutter Julian Cope who turns in an excellent "I Have Always Been Here Before." And, in the last spark before their crash, the Judybats deliver with an organ-tastic "She Lives In a Time of Her Own" and John Wesley Harding gives a career-best with his version of "If You Have Ghosts"
The bads: REM's sonambulation through "I Walked With a Zombie." This was back when they could rock, so there was no excuse.

I'm Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen

The skinny: His over frequency in the movie "Pump Up The Volume" spurred this cast of all-star Cohen wannabe's to flesh out their arty decdent sides.
The goods: Nick Cave's rickety "Tower of Song" and Lloyd Cole's delicious cocaine groove of "Chelsea Hotel"
The bads: Hate to say it, but REM again, with their true-to-the-lame-original "First, We'll Take Manhattan." They needed some record store clerks on staff to select their cover choices.

Fifteen Minutes: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground

The skinny: No frills comp forcing a slew of people put their money where their mouths were after citing VU's influence in their lives.
The goods: Nirvana's splendid "Here She Comes Now" with all the tenderness/savagery of the original
The bads: Madchester third-stringers New Fast Automatic Daffodils put their own non-stamp of the even-boring-when-Vu-did-it "I'm Set Free"

Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved

The skinny: Whether they want to admit it, everyone loves KISS
The goods: Toad the Wet Sprocket delivers the best cover version of anything ever with their slowed down acoustic take on "Rock & Roll All Night" and, shit you not, then-nu-country behemoth Garth Brooks does a great "Hard Luck Woman" with KISS as the backup band.
The bads: How do you out cartoon KISS? Two words: Lenny. Kravitz.

Cover You: A Tribute to the Rolling Stones
The skinny: Really more of a collection of previously released covers, but it is so good it still deserves mentioning
The goods: Johnny Cash taking the Orange Blossom Special on a ride through "No Expectations" and Leon Russell making "Wild Horses" the most beautiful song you ever heard. Again. And Ike and Tina's take on "Under My Thumb" would be a work of the greatest sad irony if it wasn't so damn good.
The bads: Sugar Blue who was on the original of "Miss You" adds nothing to it.

One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen

The skinny: Overlong but mostly excellent re-hash of the Boss
The goods: Former best band in the world The Smithereens breaking my heart with their take on "Downbound Train" and the story in the liner notes David Bowie tells of when he recorded, "It's Hard to Be a Saint in The City" are the best two things about this set. He heard the Man himself was in the studio and ran out, all Ziggy-resplendent, to meet him and play his version for him and ended up just making Jersey's Favorite Son really uncomfortable being in that pool of freaks. And John Hiatt out Tom Waits-ing Tom Waits on "Johnny 99" is superb.
The bads: You'd think Southside Johnny and the Jukes could tear it up, but their version of "The Fever" is corny as hell, and that's taking in the inherent Springsteen-corniness factor into account. And the contribution from The Knack is just painful.

Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons

The skinny: One of many romps through the greatest unheard discography of the 70's.
The goods: So many to list. Beck and Emmylou Harris' tender take on "Sin City," Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield weeping through "$1000 Wedding" are both great, but the two opening tracks, "She" by the Pretenders and "Ooh Las Vegas" by the Cowboy Junkies, are good enough to give you a contact high.
The bads: Master buzzkill Elvis Costello pokes his giant-bespectacled mug in "Sleeples Nights" and Steve Earle, who has placed many a sour track on many a tribute, gives up a lackluster "High Fashion Queen"

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Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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