Release Date: Sep 6, 2011
Record label: Verve Forecast
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Easy Listening, Soft Rock, Tribute Albums
Buddy Holly, who would have been 75 this year, was rock & roll's master of less is more. His perfectly crafted songs deliver big emotional payoffs while being models of minimalism: two or so minutes, three or so chords, a handful of impeccably honed lyrics. Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, the year's second all-star Holly covers album (Rave On Buddy Holly came out in June), has a slightly oddball lineup (Natalie Merchant, the Fray).
The majority of the contributors to the musical tribute to Buddy Holly, Listen to Me, offer reverent takes on the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer’s tunes. That’s kind of ironic, as Holly’s music itself was known for its irreverence. Holly added classical flourishes to pop songs during a period when the two genres were seen as total opposites. He poked fun at the drama of teenage romance by highlighting the effervescence of its joys and pains.
Buddy Holly was rock & roll’s first real singer/songwriter (a case could also be made for Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and several other early rock & roll pioneers, but Holly come closest to the way the singer/songwriter genre defined itself in the 1970s), and whether it was a ballad or a poppy, upbeat piece, Holly always brought a refreshing joy and verve to the proceedings. This set, part of Verve/Forecast's new Listen to Me series, celebrates what would have been Holly's 75th birthday year with 16 covers of some of his best-known songs done by a varied host of contemporary singers, including Stevie Nicks, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, Lyle Lovett, Natalie Merchant, and others, including a goofy turn at “Raining in My Heart” by Eric Idle. Nothing here gets too far away from the template of Holly's original versions (save for Idle's baffling turn), which is both the strength and perhaps the fault of this release.
Comeback of the year? Not quite, but this mid-60s countrypolitan hit maker gets a major boost from Marty Stuart as producer/co-songwriter/musician on Smith’s first album in eight years. These broken-hearted love ditties feature her emotional, traditional country voice atop stripped down arrangements that highlight her talents with tunes that are retro yet not musty. Gary Carter’s crying steel guitar will melt the hardest heart and the whole project will give goosebumps to anyone who cherishes the good old days of the Grand Ole Opry.