Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records

Various Artists

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Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

If you know anything about rock & roll, you know that Sun Records looms large over the history and mythos of the music -- enough so that it does deserve its own full-fledged tribute (what else could suit the home of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, and the Killer, as well as cult icons like Warren Smith, Sonny Burgess, Billy Lee Riley, and the Collins Kids). Still, given the history of tribute records, it's easy to be suspicious about the star-studded 2001 affair Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records, since this equation often equals less than the sum of the parts. However, there is a crucial difference with Sun Records -- if you're truly in love with the label, it's hard not to try to explain your love, which is a decidedly different thing than paying respect. After all, respect implies a certain sense of reserve, and while that's true with some of the cuts here (Chris Isaak's "It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You," for instance), most of this record is joyous, loose, and fun. It is possible to tell the difference between artists who were kids when they fell in love with Sun, since they're looser with the material, capturing the very feel of the records, where the newer artists -- the Howlin' Diablos and Kid Rock's "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" should by all rights should have been a barnstormer, but the hip-hop affectations lead to a slower tempo and lazy production compared to any of Jerry Lee's breakneck, relentless versions -- seem obsessed with making these songs fit their sound. With the veterans, there is a bit of a tendency to be overly faithful, but it doesn't sink the tribute because the songs are tremendous and most of the artists have giddy love for this stuff. And this really does separate the boys from the men (girls from the women, too), since the real artists can hold their own even when they're caged by fan worship -- look at how Tom Petty apes Elvis on "Blue Moon of Kentucky," yet still winds up with a lively, vigorous performance. Some of the featured artists don't really make sense -- no disrespect meant, but who ever thought Matchbox Twenty could do Charlie Rich, especially how they slow "Lonely Weekends" down and turn it all hambone serious (although it does take a certain talent to prove that even Charlie Rich can sound post-grunge in the right hands) or that Live works for Johnny Cash -- but most of Good Rockin' Tonight is nothing but fine, fine, fine. Tribute albums usually are too slavish to their source or blatantly flaunting how they're deviating from tradition, but this is one of the rare cases where the tribute usually captures the spirit of its subject, and it's a whole lotta fun because of it.

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