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Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records – various artists

London-Sire 500055-2

It's hard not to be torn with tribute albums. While the artists involved
are showing their appreciation for someone else, too many times the remakes
are so reverential that all it does is make me long for the original. I
that's part of the idea — highlight someone in the hope that others will
rediscover the previous work. But when you get something that lacks any new
infusion of personality or the original is so perfect in its own particular
way, then why bother? In other words, the original number contains all the
elements that make it special. Trying to recreate it or expand upon it is
near impossible. It's the difference between a Led Zeppelin cover versus
Devo's reconstruction of Satisfaction and even in some cases the
versions that go on in the jamband scene.

Only when a song has the type of breathing room within its grooves or the
artist approaches the previous work with enough of himself invested in it
this "new" tune actually be touted as a success. Then again, personality can
be damned if what was attempted was a waste, but that's another matter.

In the case of "Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records," it's
more of a tribute to a Sound that was developed by Sam Phillips back in 1952
when he converted his radiator shop into a recording studio. It was there
that he recorded such legendary figures as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins,
Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and others. Because of this, as a listener, I
tended to recognize many of the tunes but relished many of the treatments
displayed by the following participants:

Not too surprisingly, the more reverential treatments come from the artists who grew up with and were influenced by these works. Paul McCartney starts the proceedings off with That’s All Right. It's a typical McCartney cover, enthusiastically done yet without a lot of fires being set off by him and his band.

Next is Jeff Beck and Chrissie Hynde teaming up for Mystery Train. As
he normally does when playing older material, Beck subjugates himself to the
tone and temperament of his guitar idols. In this case, the always-welcome
voice of Hynde brings some kick to the material. With My Bucket's Got a
Hole in It Jimmy Page and Robert Plant sound as
if they contributed an unreleased track from the Honeydrippers album.
Then there's the French music star Johnny Hallyday who, unfortunately, drops
his normal method of singing early rock classics in his native tongue for
English language visit of Blue Suede Shoes. It's somewhat comical,
and fun as hell, to hear Elton John doing his best Jerry Lee Lewis imitation
on Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On. A major plus is
to hear John giving the piano the type of work out one rarely hears on the
midtempo numbers he produces year after year.

A stronger sense of artistic personality begins to surface when Tom Petty's version of Blue Moon of Kentucky. Sure, it sounds as if Petty knocked this out in one take when he had a few minutes of studio time left, but you can't resist the joyfulness in his voice and in the playing. Then, Van Morrison and the late Carl Perkins join forces for Sittin' on Top of the World. Under their guidance it becomes a blues workout. The two share vocals on the verses and they, surprisingly, sound fine next to each other.

While Bryan Ferry's choice of Don’t Be Cruel is appropriate based on
his solo work and leadership of Roxy Music, I had hoped that he would have
done more with the song than this straightforward, breezy treatment. Too bad
it wasn't recorded when he was making "As Time Goes By." That album, which
covered tunes from the '30s and '40s, featured intricate and interesting
string arrangements. A more subdued and haunting Cruel would have
me more than this nice one. Bob Dylan's choice, Red Cadillac and a Black
Moustache is one of the
album's more obscure tracks. No matter, he makes it his own, and with any
luck, if he hasn't already, he should throw this into his setlist.

Unlike the millions who have bought their albums, I've never been
overwhelmed with Matchbox Twenty. And the first minute of Lonely
nearly changed my mind. Then, the group returns to its full-blown arena rock
mode for the chorus, and they momentarily lose me. Following the next verse
and a return to the chorus, it actually makes sense. This version finds
itself nodding to the past yet adapting to the present. And based on my
original vision of what a tribute should do, Matchbox Twenty eventually
proves that it fits my elastic rules for tributes.

Saying that Live's take on I Walk the Line is frightening is meant as
compliment. Stripped from Johnny Cash's chunky, heading-down-the-rail-line
guitar notes, it begins in a manner that is all foreboding, as if Max Cady
from "Cape Fear" recorded this while in prison.

Sure, Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee sticks out like the black sheep in
the middle of a flock of white ones, but what can you expect when you have
the Howling Diablos featuring Kid Rock. Until Kid chimes in with the
unnecessary rap break, the song carries itself well with its gritty blues

Finally, we find Mandy Barnett with the Jordanaires on You Win Again.
Just like it was a tasteful choice to bring in Perkins earlier on the
it's nice to hear Presley's backing band in fine form. The arrangement is
made to resemble a Patsy Cline number that aims to make its point from the
front rows to the back seats.

So, that's it. Sixteen songs in less than 50 minutes. Only the Ramones could top that musical equation with as much melodic charm and all-meat-no-filler style.

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