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[Off The Record]
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Various Artists

As Woody Guthrie was to folk or Muddy Waters was to blues, the presence of Hank Williams is so deeply embedded in the soil and soul of American roots music that it’s easy to take the guy for granted. Which is all the more reason this star-studded tribute album is so noteworthy. In the interpretive hands of a who’s who of Williams offspring (Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash), classic-rock perennials (Keith Richards, Tom Petty), new roots icons (Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams), and MTV-friendly contempo-rockers (Sheryl Crow, Beck), Timeless provides an evocative portrait of country’s first and greatest superstar and its most tragic figure, as seen through the prism of disparate artists who were influenced, either directly or indirectly, by Williams’s mastery of style and plain-spoken song.

Most of the treatments here are reverential (perhaps even overly so) — check out pomo pastiche artist Beck’s solemn, elegiac take on " Your Cheatin’ Heart " — but Timeless is a heavenly jukebox. Lucinda Williams makes true the chilling simplicity of heartbreak on " Cold, Cold Heart. " Modern bluesman Keb’ Mo’ offers a despairing " I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry " that nearly matches the scary sadness of Cash’s " I Dreamed About Mama Last Night. " Keith Richards gamely talks and bluffs his way through the ballad-with-brass " You Win Again. " With a mischievous twinkle in his voice and a band who sound like the Sun Studios house rhythm section, Dylan delivers one of his more animated vocal efforts on the jaunty " I Can’t Get You off of My Mind. " And on " Long Gone Lonesome Blues, " Sheryl Crow demonstrates why she was in demand as a backing vocalist all those years: she can sing just about any damn thing. Here, in a keening half-yodel, she elicits the old-time mood of a 78 rpm record spinning on a Victrola deep in the Appalachian mountains.


Issue Date: November 8 - 15, 2001

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