Various Artists

The Blues White Album

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Telarc stretches their label tribute series concept practically to the breaking point when they attempt to breathe blues life into the Beatles' sprawling masterwork. George Benson and Booker T. & the MG's tried similar treatments of Abbey Road, but the White Album, with its wildly diverse styles, hasn't been ripe for reinterpretation, especially in a blues mode. Although it's ultimately disappointing, this does have enough moments to appeal to fans of the participating artists and the genre. Whittling down the original double album's 30 tracks to a more manageable ten still doesn't explain why such naturally bluesy rockers like "Savoy Truffle," "Birthday," and "Back in the USSR" were ignored in favor of the bouncy pop of "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" and "Don't Pass Me By." Both fall flat here, with Maria Muldaur sounding completely lost on the former, and bass-playing sessionman T-Bone Wolk's unconvincingly wimpy vocals on the latter. Chris Duarte takes the title of "I'm So Tired" too much too heart as he practically sleepwalks though a mumbling, shambling version of the druggy tune that sounds like a demo bolstered by a snazzy guitar solo. Anders Osborne comes up empty handed while attempting to inject R&B into the twisting "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," but the song's winding, disjointed melody and free-form lyrics don't translate well to a blues interpretation. Even "Yer Blues," the most obvious cover, comes up short of its potential, as Lucky Peterson seems like a caricature of himself, working too hard to put it across as slow Chicago blues. Peterson shares guitar and vocals with Louisiana's Kenny Neal and Tab Benoit (at the time of this disc's issue, all three were not-so-coincidentally signed to Telarc, as were most of the other artists involved) on a rocking "Revolution" that comes closest to achieving this album's intention. Joe Louis Walker expands "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" to twice its original length, effectively digging into the guts of the tune in a stirring, near-wrenching performance. Similarly, the always-classy Charlie Musselwhite transforms "Dear Prudence" into an eight-minute instrumental epic, complete with crying harp and Colin Linden's sympathetic slide guitar. That, along with an acoustic "Blackbird," which takes McCartney's simple love song down to the Delta in an imaginative and moving unplugged version by Linden, shows the potential of this undertaking. It doesn't all gel, but the highlights show promise for future projects to be more successful.

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