The hit FX Network TV show Sons of Anarchy follows the adventures of a hard-living gang of bikers who have no fear of living on the edge, but their taste in music is a bit more eclectic than one might expect, at least judging from the second album of music recorded for the show, which runs from hard rock to R&B to country and even gospel. Nine of the thirteen selections on Songs of Anarchy, Vol. 2 include the show's de facto "house band" the Forest Rangers, a studio combo led by producers Bob Thiele, Jr. and Dave Way, and featuring guitarist Dave Kushner, bassist Davey Faragher, steel guitarist Greg Leisz, and drummer Brian Macleod; while the band backs up a variety of different vocalists here, the musicians manage to give the music a consistency of tone and mood that's apparent when the material is compiled into an album. The disc's big drawing card is a new version of "Sympathy for the Devil" recorded for the show by Jane's Addiction, but since a couple of the Rangers sit in with the band, it doesn't stand out from the rest of the songs as much as one might imagine, and the group's performance is surprisingly subdued, revealing little guitar firepower from Dave Navarro, and Perry Farrell's voice lacking its trademark upper-end dynamics. Elsewhere, most of the tracks on Songs of Anarchy, Vol. 2 are covers, with Joshua James performing a breathy, mournful interpretation of Herman's Hermits' "No Milk Today" (James also does his own "Coal War"), Alison Mosshart of the Dead Weather swaggering through Iggy Pop's "The Passenger," Franky Perez belting out a raw, spectral version of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," Curtis Stigers leading a bar band-sounding take of John Fogerty's "Traveling Band," and Katey Sagal (who plays Gemma on the show) stepping up with a fine, smoky interpretation of Lulu's "To Sir with Love." Noah Gunderson contributes a fine pair of original numbers seemingly modeled after Appalachian folk tunes, and vocalist Battleme pairs up with the Rangers for two original but largely unexceptional numbers. For a set of material recorded for a cable TV series, Songs of Anarchy, Vol. 2 certainly stands out in terms of both quality and ambition, but while most of the performances are good, few seem truly inspired, and the emphasis on covers sometimes makes this seem like a complex way around paying licensing fees for the original versions, as impressive as these recordings may be.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming