Various Artists – Rave On Buddy Holly (Universal)

More than 50 years after his death at age 22, in a plane crash that also killed Richie Havens and the Big Bopper, rock & roll pioneer Buddy Holly is remembered with yet another tribute album.  This one promises an eclectic bunch of acts…old school rockers like Paul McCartney (who owns much of the Holly song catalogue), Graham Nash (whose band The Hollies took their name from Buddy), Lou Reed and fellow New York rocker Patti Smith. Then there are the youngsters…The Black Keys, Florence & The Machine, My Morning Jacket and Justin Townes Earle, to name a few.

All told, there are 19 tracks on this collection, which each artist performing a song that was either written by Holly (Peggy Sue, Maybe Baby, Not Fade Away) or at least recorded by him (Raining In My Heart, You’re So Square Baby I Don’t Care).

Covering old classics can be a tricky proposition. There’s no point in slavishly re-creating the original version, yet completely re-working a song until it is unrecognizable will likely annoy fans of the artist being paid tribute. There’s a bit of both going on here, although most of the versions manage to walk that fine line between the two.

A good example is Florence & The Machine’s swampy, New Orleans-inspired version of Not Fade Away. This is a tune that has been done to death, yet Florence and her band, aided by keyboard player Ivan Neville manage to make it sound fresh and interesting, without losing the spirit of the song. The same can be said for The Black Keys’ version of Dearest, a Bo- Diddley tune that Holly recorded in the late 50s. This time the band strips the tune down to its bare essentials with a throbbing bass line and a sweet, soulful vocal performance from Dan Auerbach.

Some re-workings are less successful. Lou Reed’s version of Peggy Sue is certainly interesting with its huge guitar riff and big drum sound. But as Reed sings/speaks the familiar lyrics over a noisy backing track you realize he is not really serving the song, just himself. In contrast, Patti Smith seems to completely turn herself over to Holly’s classic love song, Words Of Love. She plays it straight, singing tenderly over a backing of strings and synths. It’s a beautiful production and a highlight of the album.

Garage rockers Detroit Cobras do a fine job of capturing Holly’s band, The Crickets’, spirit with their loose, yet energetic version of Heartbeat. The same can be said for She & Him (Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward) and their reading of Oh Boy.

Modest Mouse completely dismantles That’ll Be The Day, abandoning the melody altogether and musically deconstructing one of Holly’s most recognisable tunes. Meanwhile My Morning Jacket sticks pretty close to the script. Jim Jones sings a touching version of True Love Ways over an acoustic guitar and a string quartet.  Graham Nash follows a similar formula with Raining In My Heart.

The biggest surprise is probably Paul McCartney’s take on It’s So Easy. Paul’s vocals are raw and distorted and downright jarring. This is a side of McCartney we haven’t seen before. After a careening guitar solo, the track seems to end, but then Paul lets loose with a seemingly ad-libbed rant before revving the song back up. He sounds possessed or at least like he’s being strangled. Weird and unsettling.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to Florence & The Machine’s version of Not Fade Away:

Here’s the full track listing:

  1. The Black Keys – Dearest
  2. Fiona Apple & Jon Brion – Everyday
  3. Paul McCartney – It’s So Easy
  4. Florence & The Machine – Not Fade Away
  5. Cee-Lo Green – (You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care
  6. Karen Elson – Crying, Waiting, Hoping
  7. Julian Casablancas – Rave On
  8. Jenny O – I’m Gonna Love You Too
  9. Justin Townes Earle – Maybe Baby
  10. She & Him – Oh Boy
  11. Nick Lowe – Changing All Those Changes
  12. Patti Smith – Words Of Love
  13. My Morning Jacket – True Love Ways
  14. Modest Mouse – That’ll Be The Day
  15. Kid Rock – Well All Right
  16. Detroit Cobras – Heartbeat
  17. Lou Reed – Peggy Sue
  18. John Doe – Peggy Sue Got Married
  19. Graham Nash – Raining In My Heart