Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Various Artists "Rockin' Legends Pay Tribute to Jack White," , "Light My Fire: A Classic Rock Salute to the Doors," "A Psych Tribute to the Doors," "Psych-Out Christmas"

(CleopatraThese four compilations highlight what the Cleopatra label does best. My original impression of the label was that it was a dark wave version of CMC, the 90s metal "heritage" label, that put out new material by hard rock stars of the past. But Cleopatra has done a lot more than give goth legends another chance in the studio. They have established themselves as a label committed to satisfying fans and artists of classic acts with quality reissues, new albums with great production values (recording, design, and packaging), and tribute albums that may be corny cash-ins (as all tribute albums are) yet still reflect that everyone involved is truly a fan, record collector, and geek excited to get legends and young talents together, even if it is to record a goth tribute to Smashing Pumpkins tribute, or a metal Michael Jackson tribute. Seventies British punk bands, 80s hip hop acts, garage rock revivalists, and Sunset Strip glamsters have all found a supportive home on Cleopatra (as well as some new acts), so even when an artist I'm not that interested in gets the Cleo bump, I'm still glad to see them get the respect of a nice looking album. In many ways their Jack White tribute represents the ultimate expression of a music fan run label, as putting aside the commercial tribute album angle, this was a chance to get artists from the 1950s into the studio again, and give them some glory and love while they are still with us. The magnificent Wanda Jackson is the ringer (the biggest name and a name associated with White already) but all the names involved are welcome, as hearing Sonny Burgess, Johnny Powers, Gary "U.S. Bonds, Johnny Cash drummer W.S. Holland, jump blues honker Big Jay McNeely (behind Nik Turner!) and Bobby Vee making well-produced, 21st Century recordings is a thrill. That the album also features rockabilly/punk revivalists/legends like Robert Gordon, Rosie Flores, Los Straitjackets, and Walter Lure (making some nice guitar sounds) is all the better, and what really makes this more than novelty is the fact that is proves White's compositions aren't just about his style, idiosyncrasies and recording techniques. They really hold up to a bunch of different styles, and Vee's sweet little country take on "We're Going to Be Friends" and Cyril Neville's wonderful vocal on "You Don't Know What Love Is" are just great recordings they should have made even without this concept project. 

I know that the Doors songs are brilliantly crafted pop, but I find Jim Morrison insufferable and turn off oldies radio when his voice fills the airwaves. So the Cleopatra tributes are actually serving up improved songs in my opinion. On the psyche album Elephant Stone redeems “L.A. Woman,” The Psychic Ills do an extremely reverent cover of “Love Me Two Times," and Dark Horses does a trippy, minimalist, drone take on “Hello, I Love You” that is still pleasantly ringing in my head. Other highlights include Clinic’s futuristic take on “Touch Me,” and the Raveonettes dreamy “The End.” Sure, doing a psych tribute to a band many consider a psych band (not I, but many) ain’t daring, but I dug this. The classic rck tribute is more bombastic, almost a broadway rock opera jukebox musical, arranging the hits into  suite of power riff, wailing, pummeling vehicles for an army of talent including Rundgren, Edgar Winter, Skunk Baxter, Mark Farner, Steve Cropper, Pat travers, David Johansen (!), Rick Wakeman and dozens more. It's mighty, but still for Doors diehards only.
Much better is Cleopatra's Christmas compilation, which unlike their metal, pop, and rock tribute albums which often feature older stars (Wakeman, Rod Argent) and gifted but historically hinky "members" of classic bands (Bumblefoot, Bruce Kulick), this (like the psyche Doors tribute) features younger and fresher (and some timeless) acts that quite frankly don't seem that hung up on defining what "psych" means. There's nice sounds from Sons of Hippies, a pretty straight up psyche act, but awesomely this album culminates with an Iggy Pop "White Christmas," which is certainly mind blowing but to particularly psychedelic.  Impressively this album draws upon the talents of Quintron and Pussycat (two killer tunes), stoner superheroes Dead Meadow, sweet swedes the Movements, and one of the better Fuzztones tracks I've heard in a while. By not making the bands conform to psyche cliches or make novelty tracks (and being so open minded that a cover of "Time of the Season" counts as an Christmas cut) this album will not only hold up for many X-mases to come, but can be spun safely in May or October.

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