Various Artists

Listen to Me: Buddy Holly

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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. Nothing gets stretched, so one is tempted to say that an album of Holly's versions of these same 16 songs would make for a much more enduring listen, but that said, Holly's songs usually shine through no matter what is done to them. Among the highlights here are Stevie Nicks' take on “Not Fade Away,” which sticks close to the vest but features a surprisingly sassy vocal, Brian Wilson's late-era Beach Boys touches on “Listen to Me,” Jeff Lynne's fairly faithful (albeit with a contemporary drum loop) version of “Words of Love,” and Ringo Starr's “Think It Over,” in which his unassuming vocal and equally unassuming persona can’t help but draw a smile of nostalgia. The best track here isn’t a new recording, though-Linda Ronstadt's hit version of “That’ll Be the Day” from 1976 is also included (Peter Asher, who produced Ronstadt's single back then, is the executive producer of this album). This set is a pleasant listen, but the fact remains that the best versions of Holly songs are by Buddy Holly, and no album of covers, no matter how well done or well intentioned, can eclipse them.

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