Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson – Various Artists
Anderson’s a Nashville songwriter/performer who’s well respected. He’s had his chart success over the decades but nowadays he’s only known to the cognoscenti. This compilation doesn’t come a moment too soon. The producers have done a remarkable job and the reason why is summed up by, co-producer, Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) “We weren’t trying to piddle around and make the normal tribute record. It had to be the best singers with the best songs and the best arrangements, and they had to come into the studio. This wasn’t like, ‘Mail me the song, and we’ll put it together.’ I think it makes this record unique. I don’t think most tribute records are done like this. I think that’s why it sounds like a cohesive album. It feels like an amazing mix tape.” The song selection is excellent switching between singer songwriter, country and southern rock. The lyrics show Anderson’s gift to pen a pop chart country cliché or a weighty story dripping with pathos.
The stellar contributors include the Brothers Osborne, Tyler Childers, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Jamey Johnson and Ashley McBryde. No cost has been spared on the musicianship or arrangements whether it’s the strings behind the acoustic “I Just Came Home to Count the Memories” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or the southern rock funk à la Little Feat with mesmerising slide and honky tonk keys behind Nathanial Rateliff on “Low Dog Blues”. The main difference between the originals are the production qualities and the stronger voices of the covering artists.
The album starts with “1959″ sung by John Prine. (It’s wonderful to have a new track by this dearly departed legend). The lyric could have been written by him. He reflects on his young love, going to fight in Vietnam and the desertion of his lover. She’s previously written ‘I love you always’ yet marries another while he’s away on active service. Years later he still thinks of her. Poignant and arresting. Luke Combs takes on “Seminole Wind”, a lament about the changes experienced by the Native American tribe as the marshy waters of Florida were drained. A solo piano introduction leads to a Southern rock arrangement and elevate this to a true rocking delight.
Ashley McBryde covers one of Anderson’s biggest commercial successes, “Straight Tequila Nigh”t. A tipple that gets the woman, at the bar, through the recurring heartache of a lover long gone. Brothers Osborne take on a classic country lyric of “You Can’t Judge A Book (By The Cover)”. The title says it all as they implore their quarry to give them a second look. An artist new to me, Sierra Ferrell, takes on Anderson’s 2020 composition, “Years”, a co-write with Auerbach, and this arrangement drops the original electric guitar and strings and becomes a country folk stomp where the clear and pure mellifluous voice and fiddle create an earworm. Another album highlight.
This year has seen a few excellent cover/tribute albums of lesser known artists. Included in this are Neal Casal and Jerry Jeff Walker, both have been done justice and this is a very worthy addition but possibly more pleasing as Anderson is still around. The whole album’s top drawer. You must search it out.