What is the point of a tribute album? Generally, they are done to raise money for a good cause, but the only cause that Rave On Buddy Holly seems to be contributing towards is the cause to raise awareness of the greatness of Buddy Holly. This is fair enough, but boy do I hope that those unfamiliar with Buddy Holly will use these tracks as a stepping stone towards the originals rather than stopping at this compilation, because this album doesn’t do the legend all that much service.
The covers fall into two general categories: those which are more or less carbon copies of the original and those where the band has tried to meld their own sound onto the song. The latter group are more commendable for their efforts to try to make this compilation more than a standard set of covers; it’s just a shame most of them fall flat.
To begin with, Julian Casablancas’ take on “Rave On” lacks life, Lou Reed’s bulky “Peggy Sue” lacks emotion, and The Black Keys may have two members, but their version of “Dearest” is half as interesting as Buddy Holly on his own. Modest Mouse turns “That’ll Be The Day” into a latter-day Modest Mouse song, that is to say a not-very-good one, but the words turn into beautiful cynicism in Brock’s trademark drawl, making it worthwhile. On the bright side “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” has a dosing of sass added to it by Cee-Lo, which makes it great, and Karen Elson and Jenny O both flipping Holly’s songs to a female perspective gives them a new lease of life. Although, Holly’s heartbreaking male honesty was always one of his strengths.
The other side of the coin is those that just flat-out cover the tracks. She & Him do what they generally do to “Oh Boy,” which is charming enough, and Fiona Apple and Jon Brion also do a She & Him on “Everyday,” and are even more charming. But, some of these can be downright boring (Justin Townes Earle’s “Maybe Baby,” Nick Lowe’s “Changing All Those Changes”) and seem as though the artist just wanted to prove that their version is a worthwhile listen because it has higher production value. Then, there are those who get a little too into it; Florence Welch starts nicely in the verses of “Not Fade Away,” but when she gets to chorus and just has to show off her trademark belt, the song is ruined. However, at least she doesn’t embarrass herself like one Sir Paul McCartney, whose bombastic 50s-inspired hype-man antics on “It’s So Easy” are truly misjudged to the point where he sounds much more scary than fun (which I believe what he was going for).
Buddy Holly had a traditionally beautiful voice, and the only people who can really match up to him on this collection are My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Graham Nash. Nash’s closing “Raining In My Heart” leaves the collection on a sad note, but a happy one for the listener who’s left with a good impression since it’s easily one of the finest performances here; but the absolute best is certainly My Morning Jacket’s. The Kentuckians’ take on “True Love Ways” shows what a modern studio can do for a song, turning it into the grandiose indie-rock ballad that the song always had the potential to be.
I could go through each of the 19 tracks on offer here, pointing out pros and cons in each, but that would be a waste of everyone’s time. Suffice it to say that those that I haven’t mentioned are all fine covers; those who are unfamiliar with the originals will enjoy them plenty, but Buddy Holly fans will unlikely find anything that will earn repeat listens.
Rave On Buddy Holly has its heart in the right place, trying to expose a new generation to classic music, but the final product is hardly noteworthy. Most of these tracks were probably recorded in a single day (or less), while these bands were on tour. If given more time, I’m sure some could have become a gem for die-hard fans to find, but instead, the majority will be quickly, and rightfully, forgotten.