Various Artists

Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska

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Nebraska is probably the album that has more critical respect, from both writers and musicians, than any other Bruce Springsteen project. It's likely that no other Springsteen album could have brought together the mainstream and indie acts on this track-by-track re-creation of the record, the cast including Chrissie Hynde (dueting with Adam Seymour), Los Lobos, Ani DiFranco, Son Volt, Ben Harper, Aimee Mann (dueting with Michael Penn), Johnny Cash, and Raul Malo. The challenge faced by all tribute projects? To pay homage to the spirit of the original, yet vary the arrangements and vocal interpretation enough so that the covers are interesting in their own right. This is more successful than most tribute albums in those regards, though like virtually all tribute albums, it's uneven. When the vibe is at its most minimal, the covers can be pretty successful, like Chrissie Hynde's subdued phrasing against spectral backing on the title cut, Crooked Fingers' use of dense circular ambient backup on "Mansion on the Hill," and Ani DiFranco's deployment of the kind of low booming bass heard on the Twin Peaks soundtrack on "Used Cars." Ben Harper projects more soulfulness than most do on Springsteen covers with his acoustic cover of "My Father's House." On the other hand, Hank III's hoedown country version of "Atlantic City" doesn't suit the mood, and the harder-rocking efforts (Los Lobos' "Johnny 99," Malo's "Downbound Train") are kind of neutral cruises. In addition to versions of the ten songs on Nebraska, the disc is intelligently supplemented by covers of three compositions recorded and written during the Nebraska sessions, though released on subsequent albums: "I'm on Fire" (done by Cash), "Downbound Train" (done by Malo), and "Wages of Sin" (done by Damien Jurado and Rose Thomas).

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