This is a very belated review of "Endless Highway," the tribute album to the Band. You know I'm a sucker for tribute albums, even though they're rarely any good. I get wowed by the list of performers, then realize all too late that the whole thing sucks. But not so in this case! There are quite a few winners in this collection. (And some real dogs too, like Trevor Hall covering "Life Is a Carnival.") Maybe it's no surprise that the songs I think work best are those that don't stray too far from the original format. I would never go so far as to suggest that any of them is an improvement over the originals, but here's my take on some of the better tracks:
- "King Harvest" - Bruce Hornsby: I didn't even recognize his voice here, but it sounds great.
- "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (live) - Allman Brothers: This is excellent. The fact that a southern band is doing a southern song doesn't hurt. I've always liked Gregg Allman's voice, sweet and gritty at the same time.
- "I Shall Be Released" - Jack Johnson: This is nice enough, certainly nothing objectionable. He turns it into more of a mainstream pop song, which is OK, but I am most surely not brought to the brink of tears as I am when I listen to the original "Big Pink" Richard Manuel version with Rick Danko and Levon Helm doing backup harmonies.
- "Up on Cripple Creek" - Gomez: I had never even heard of Gomez, and I would have thought that attempting to cover this song was a big mistake, but it works.
- "Acadian Driftwood" - The Roches: This is a gorgeous arrangement, and they have the confidence to depart from the original successfully.
Meanwhile, the reviews praised Lee Ann Womack's version of "The Weight," but I found it just plain uninteresting. Of the many covers of this song (and I have about a dozen in my iTunes library), I tend to prefer the ones that follow in the "Last Waltz" tradition of having someone different do each verse.