Various Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska

Some albums just come along at the right time. When Nebraska was released in 1982, interest in acoustic music was arguably at an all-time low, never mind interest in albums recorded on a home four-track. Yet Springsteen's primitive demos have stood the test of time and have probably done more to solidify his position as a great American songwriter than any of the work that followed. At least, that's the position of the countless songwriters who have drawn inspiration from the album's unflinching observations of middle America's dark underbelly. Nebraska's mystique has since been adopted almost wholeheartedly by artists like Cowboy Junkies and Johnny Cash (who makes a cameo appearance here), so remaking the entire album doesn't seem that much of a stretch. But like any tribute album, the performances vary wildly in relation to an artist's connection to the material and the personal taste of the listener. None of the artists are out of place, but I'm more partial to Hank Williams III evoking his grandfather on "Atlantic City," Son Volt transforming "Open All Night" into a slow waltz and Los Lobos tackling "Johnny 99" - a bold move, considering recent events surrounding the band. The strong presence of female voices also adds new twists to the songs, but give me Margo Timmins singing "State Trooper" over Deana Carter, any day. Still, a worthy companion to a truly landmark piece of Americana. (Sub Pop)