I'm not a huge fan of most tribute albums. Most of them seemed novel at the time, and are now collecting dust. There are two ways to go about covering another band: you can either try to recreate the original song, or you interpret the song in the context of your own unique sound. While bands can sometimes show their inadequacies through abysmal covers, the all-star cast of groups on Under The Influence would try to prove otherwise.
Claypool and Galactic open the album with fresh spins on "Call Me the Breeze" and "Saturday Night Special," though at times it feels a bit misplaced. Claypool's vocals are about as far from Skynyrd as you can get, but the song is partially redeemed from some tasty bass licks. Galactic may have done the best job making a Skynyrd song their own, with former lead vocalist Houseman giving a convincing interpretation of the lyrics.
Gov't Mule proved to be more than up to the task, with Warren Haynes' rustic, soulful vocals doing "Simple Man" justice. The North Mississippi Allstars infuse a lot of energy into the disc with "Whiskey Rock a Roller," which features Luther Dickinson on another characteristically solid solo. The real gem of the album is moe. with Joe Hiatt performing "Ballad of Curtis Loew." The band's playing is squeaky-clean, yet relaxed at the same time and meshes perfectly with Hiatt's sound.
The first few minutes of Blues Traveler's take on "Free Bird" can be described in either one or two words... depending on if you put a hyphen in "piss-poor." I was getting ready to reach for the remote and put Hopper out of his misery when out of nowhere a quick and appealing piano solo led to an absolutely raging climax. Didn't see that one coming.
The most natural-sounding track came from the Drive-By Truckers, who paid homage to their Southern brethren with an inspired take on "Every Mother's Son." Next up was "Sweet Home Alabama" by Big Head Todd. I was curious to see what they'd do with this one, and they opted to go for a completely different sound. It was a bit like hearing Clapton's unplugged version of "Layla" in comparison to the original version. Big Head Todd went with a slow, driving rhythm accompanied by a good deal of percussion, and wound up with a winning formula.
The Disco Biscuits made me wonder why the disc has 11 tracks instead of 10. Their take on "Gimme Three Steps" was a travesty, a sham, and a mockery of the original... a trav-sha-mockery, if you will. Fortunately Yonder Mountain String Band comes to the rescue with a great version of "Four Walls of Raiford," sounding as though it was performed off a front porch in Alabama. Particle finished the disc with a sonic exploration of "Workin' for MCA." Particle often sounds best when taken in smaller doses, and with the exception of the fade-out at the end of the song (uber-weak, guys), they breathe new life into the song by layering a number of soothing rhythms on top of one another. The song picks up steam the last minute or so, and provides an appropriate end for the tribute.
This is one of the better tribute albums that I've heard. There are really only a couple tracks that might make a listener want to skip ahead to something else. The first listen was an interesting one, and the second listen was a great deal better. There is a true diversity of sound in the album and at times the only common thread is a respect and passion for the music. Skynyrd would prove to have a lasting legacy on music, and this album is a good sampling of talented artists that were "Under the Influence" of their Southern swagger. This is the perfect holiday gift for that crazy redneck uncle that digs Skynyrd but doesn't "get it" when it comes to jambands. Damn fine tribute to a damn fine band.
Listen to Under The Influence on Rhapsody.
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