Had he lived, tomorrow would have been Buddy Holly’s 75th birthday, and today marks the release date of the second full-length Buddy Holly tribute of the past ten weeks. Due to the proximity of the release dates, the two collections are destined to be linked together and compared. On the surface, similarities abound: both Rave On Buddy Holly (review here) and Listen To Me: Buddy Holly feature big name stars and a bevy of classic rockers. Rave On boasts Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe, Patti Smith and Lou Reed while Listen To Me offers Stevie Nicks, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne and Ringo Starr. The differences lie in the roster of contemporary contributors. Where Rave On is stocked with indie cred, Listen To Me relies on a list of chart-topping pop stars.
Less innovative than its slightly older cousin, Listen To Me: Buddy Holly has a few oddities that tend to tarnish an otherwise pretty solid compilation. First on the list of disappointments is Linda Ronstadt’s 1976 Hasten Down The Wind version of “That’ll Be The Day.” Really? Does a 35 year-old song get a pass on an otherwise “new” collection simply because the legendary Peter Asher produced both projects? Did they think we wouldn’t notice?
Fresh from their Muppets: The Green Album rendering of “Mahna Mahna,” The Fray dramatically reconstruct “Take Your Time.” Credit noted for presenting the song in a different manner, but more credit deducted for following the same old Fray/Grey’s Anatomy recipe which can make a song about brushing your teeth sound like the most heart wrenching activity known to man.
Nobody expects Eric Idle to cover Buddy Holly. Amongst his weaponry are such elements as annoying sound effects, ruthless sarcasm and a fanatical devotion to goofy dialects. While the first 20 seconds of Idle’s interpretation of “Raining In My Heart” are rather humorous, sitting through the entire song is guaranteed to make you squirm awkwardly in your comfy chair while praying for that animated Monty Python bare foot to come down from the sky and squash the breath out of him.
There’s still plenty to like on Listen To Me. Producer Asher must have positively beamed working with his daughter Victoria, Cobra Starship’s keytar player. They put a modern twist on “Peggy Sue” while staying true to the original. The song becomes a duet with Victoria taking on the role of Peggy Sue.
Chris Isaak has had somewhat of a low profile recently. This seems sure to change with Isaak nearly ready to release his own cover tribute to Sun Records in October. He warms up here on a song of similar vintage, and his elegant delivery makes “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” one of the collection’s best moments. In much the same vein, Jackson Browne sounds totally at home handling “True Love Ways.”
The only artist to appear on each Buddy Holly tribute, Zooey Deschanel chooses “It’s So Easy” this time. A little additional echo on her vocals gives the feeling of being hugged by her warm voice. Irish rockabilly throwback Imelda May’s spirited performance of “I’m Lookin’ For Someone To Love” puts us on a time machine trip back to a gymnasium sock-hop. We’ve already reviewed two other contributions of merit: Brian Wilson’s sunny title track and Patrick Stump’s lilting take on “Everyday.”
The festivities continue tomorrow when Holly’s widow Maria Elena and Asher represent him as he receives his long-overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Later in the evening, Listen To Me contributors Lyle Lovett, Patrick Stump, Stevie Nicks and Chris Isaak will be joined by other performers for an invitation-only concert that will be filmed for air on PBS this December. If you feel like starting the celebration early, though, you could do worse than Listen to Me.
Listen to Me: Buddy Holly Tracklist:
01. Stevie Nicks – Not Fade Away
02. Pat Monahan of Train – Maybe Baby
03. Brian Wilson – Listen To Me
04. Imelda May – I’m Lookin’ For Someone To Love
05. Jackson Browne – True Love Ways
06. Cobra Starship – Peggy Sue
07. The Fray – Take Your Time
08. Ringo Starr – Think It Over
09. Chris Isaak – Crying Waiting Hoping
10. Linda Ronstadt – That’ll Be The Day
11. Jeff Lynne – Words Of Love
12. Lyle Lovett – Well All Right
13. Natalie Merchant – Learning The Game
14. Patrick Stump – Everyday
15. Zooey Deschanel – It’s So Easy
16. Eric Idle – Raining In My Heart