Too often, various-artists tribute albums are like celebrity roasts: it’s far less about the ostensible honoree, and for more about the roasters (or, in this case, “tributers”). And I’m on record stating my assertion that few tribute projects add much of value to the music. But there are exceptions, and they make the whole concept worthwhile, redeeming it in the process.
With those gauntlets neatly laid at your feet, dear reader, here’s a quick, list-style rundown of the fourteen songs on Jem Records Celebrates Pete Townshend.
- Lisa Mychols & Super 8 – “Baba O’Riley” – Using mandolin in place of synthesizers is a clever approach, and the result sounds a bit like what Led Zeppelin was doing on their third and fourth albums, albeit with a pop-leaning aesthetic.
- The Grip Weeds – “I’m Free” – A tricky rocker to execute, this tune is fine hands with the Grip Weeds. They nail the balance between crunchy rocking and sweet vocal harmony.
- The Midnight Callers – “Let My Love Open the Door” – At first I was concerned that the band’s rock rethink would rob the song of its nuance. Not so. It’s quite good, and some inventive new licks make it even better.
- Nick Piunti – “The Seeker” – Another rocker, one of the Who’s underrated tunes. This version doesn’t quite pack the punch of The Smithereens’ reading, but it’s close, and all involved can be proud.
- The Anderson Council – “Glow Girl” – More wonderful harmonies and a razor-sharp arrangement. Stellar stuff.
- Lisa Mychols & Super 8 – “I Can’t Explain” – Points for inventiveness, but if I want to hear the Roches, I’ll listen to the Roches. The campfire vibe doesn’t work for me on this song.
- Johnathan Pushkar – “The Kids are Alright” – There’s nothing exactly wrong with this version; it just seems to lack any real fire or passion. The vocal arrangement’s nice, though.
- The Gold Needles – “So Sad About Us” – Ah, here we go. The gold Needles bring something new to the song with those horn charts, sparing as they are. But I miss the original’s high vocal harmonies; they’re a key ingredient to the song’s effectiveness.
- The Grip Weeds – “A Quick One” – If any other Jem act had taken this one on, I would have been very skeptical. But not only do The Grip Weeds do well with the multi-part suite, they make it their own. Will I ever choose it over the original (or the Rock and Roll Circus recording? I will not. But still nice.
- The Weeklings – “I Can See for Miles” – Another tribute case of “adds nothing but still sounds pretty damn fine.”
- The Anderson Council – “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” This is one of Townshend’s weaker tunes – which are still better than many others’ best work – and the band seems to acknowledge that reality by reinventing it. With this they’re successful. But it’s still not a great song.
- Richard Barone – “Let’s See Action” – Nice to see some early ‘70s deep-cut Who getting some love. The original’s anthemic quality is gone; this reading is closer in spirit to Pete’s Who Came First recording. The electric lead guitar is lovely, though.
- The Gold Needles – “The Good’s Gone” – Another deep cut from the Who’s early years. This answers the unasked question, “What would ‘The Good’s Gone’ have sounded like if it was on Revolver?” Clever.
- The Airport 77s – “Substifool” – Ha ha. I get it. A medley of “Substitute” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It works, kinda. Again, some points for originality.
(The hidden track is worth a chuckle.)
Verdict: better than most of its ilk. See ya later. I’m off to listen to Quadrophenia. The original version.