In the last 48-hours I’ve learned of a new upcoming tribute album and one that was just released.
The just-released album pays tribute to the music of The Black Keys. The upcoming one features the songs of Fleetwood Mac.
First off…is it really time for a Black Keys tribute record? Aren’t tributes supposed to honor legendary artists who have made a major impact on music in general? I mean, I like the Black Keys overall. I loved their last record. But have they had a major impact on all of music-dom???
Before you answer that, let me preempt that question with one about tribute records in general….WHY????
If someone deserves a tribute record, it means they’re great, right? If they’re great…why do I need to hear someone else doing their personal version of the original, already-great material?
The first time I remember thinking this was when “Endless Highway: The Music of The Band” was released in 2007. Seriously…how is ANYONE going to improve on the music of THE BAND???
I will concede that there were two tracks I really enjoyed on that album; Guster’s cover of “This Wheel’s On Fire” and My Morning Jacket’s “It Makes No Difference”. But, honestly, those were songs I wasn’t overly familiar with from the Band’s back catalog. And once my initial love of the Guster and My Morning Jacket versions wore off, I found my way back to the originals (by The Band) and pretty much stayed there.
Cover songs are fine. If you want to pay tribute to an artist or song you love, do it. If you want to try and put your own spin on it…it’s a gamble, but you’re welcome to.
But tribute records just seem cheap and easy.
The exception might be someone like Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, who craft incredible music that’s not easily palatable by the general public. Or perhaps a well-respected artist who is off-the-beaten-path enough that the greater world-at-large might not be aware of them; someone like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, or even John Hiatt or John Prine.
But even then…it would be my hope that by listening to those cover versions, it would drive a listener back to the original source material.
Is the world any better off for having MGMT and Billy Gibbons versions of Fleetwood Mac songs? Or Iggy Pop and Pat Travers versions of Black Keys tunes?
Some tribute albums work. But it's a rare exception. The ones I've enjoyed generally feature artists that are bound by a common feel or attitude. The Kindred Spirits album that Marty Stuart produced in honor of Johnny Cash and Bloodshot Records' tribute to Bob Wills both quickly come to mind as good albums that were fun to listen to.
In thinking about the tribute albums that work...I still keep coming back to the question...do we NEED them? Do they fill a void? Are they better than the originals? Do they benefit the tributee by driving folks back to the original?
I could go on all day. But instead, I'll just ask...
What’s your opinion on the tribute album phenomenon?