The value of a tribute record, then, can roughly be determined by the percentage of songs that fall into each of those categories. By this highly scientific method, Rave On Buddy Hollyis a pretty fine offering indeed. The 19 songs featured more often than not fall into that elusive third category of being original, authentic interpretations.
Some of the artists featured take Holly's tunes into almost uncharted territories. Paul McCartney's version of "It's So Easy" is a lo-fi rave-up that renders Sir Paul's vocals almost unrecognizable in a wash of fuzz and echo. "Not Fade Away" by Florence + the Machine evokes Tom Waits at his clanking, shambling best, but the mild industrial noise serves to elevate the delicate, wispy vocals and accentuate Holly's plaintive lyrics. Kid Rock does a horn-laden version of "Well All Right" that revisits the glory of the Stax era and almost makes up for his tiresome white-trash posing. Almost. And Cee Lo Green's mile-a-minute rendition of "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" outstrips even Elvis' version when it comes to speed, and uses some well-placed steel drums and slide guitar to give it a Caribbean feel. Who knew this guy could actually rock?
Other artists stick closer to Holly's versions while still injecting their own personalities into the mix. The Detroit Cobras' take on "Heartbeat" is a slab of the pure Motor City soul/punk they've become known for, while Nick Lowe's "Changing All Those Changes" could have easily been on a Rockpile record. "Maybe Baby" has Justin Townes Earle slowing down the loping beat of the original and finding its country roots.
The rest of the album ranges from by-the-book covers, like Fiona Apple and Jon Brion's "Everyday," My Morning Jacket's "True Love Ways" and She and Him's "Oh Boy" to slightly more interesting interpretations, like Patti Smith's melancholy take on "Words of Love." All of them are serviceable, though not particularly revelatory.
Even the best collections have clunkers, and Rave On Buddy Holly is no exception, though thankfully the true duds are few. Lou Reed and Modest Mouse manage to suck all of the life out of "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be The Day," respectively. They fail by opting for hipster irony instead of tapping into the ebullient, joyful spirit of the originals, and the result is a sludgy, self-indulgent mess.
Buddy Holly would have celebrated his 75th birthday this September, but with Rave On Buddy Holly, it's the fans who get the present.