RAMBLIN: John Anderson tribute: 'Something Borrowed, Something New'

Sep. 25—Country music's John Anderson is the latest artist to be honored by a tribute album with the new release "Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson."

Rarely do tribute albums include any tracks that are as well-done as the original versions, but that's not really the point of a tribute album anyway. It's to give a nod to an artist who's the subject of the tribute and hopefully bring another facet to songs that are already etched onto the hearts and minds of music fans through countless listens.

Sometimes it can serve another purpose, such as attracting new listeners who may be fans of artists contributing to the album — even if a new listener may not be that familiar with the subject of the tribute.

I'd think most of those wanting to check out "Something Borrowed, Something New" are already admirer's of Anderson's music. Still, if the new album from Easy Eye Sound brings him some new fans too, it's all the better.

First, let's talk about the 700-pound grizzly in the room. "Something Borrowed, Something New" doesn't include a tribute version of Anderson's mega hit, "Swingin'." Anderson's version included everything from a sizzling organ to a rousing horn section and background vocalists. It seems as if "Swingin' " would be a great candidate for a cover, but it's not there.

Still, the album is filled with a generous 13 tracks. It's produced by Dan Auerbach, of The Black Keys, and Dave Ferguson. with the contributing artists split among marque names and a few fantastic up-and-comers. Every track on the album didn't knock me out, but several of the best pack a mighty wallop.

"Something Borrowed, Something New" opens with a one-two-three punch with what are so far my three favorites from the album.

It begins with "1959" from the late, great John Prine. Since Prine is rightly considered by many to be one of the best songwriters ever, it's relatively rare — but not unheard of — to hear him sing a cover song. After all, one of his best-loved recordings, "Clay Pigeons," is a Blaze Foley cover. Here he covers Anderson's "1959" to great effect, his voice nearly cracking with emotion at times, in the tale of young man who lost a lot when he left home to serve in the military.

Since we lost Prine on April 7, 2020 to complications from COVID-19, this tribute album must have been in the works for some time. Both Aurerbach and Ferguson previously worked with Prine, with Auerbach collaborating with Prine and Pat McLaughlin to cowrite "Caravan of Fools," a track from Prine's last album, 2018's "The Tree of Forgiveness."

Auerbach and Ferguson's production on "1959" is a little more sweeping than I'm used to hearing on a Prine recording, but it also makes it unique and another worthy addition to the Prine canon.

"Something Borrowed, Something New" features contributions from two Sierras, with the second track, "Years" a contribution from Sierra Ferrell, who just won the Emerging Artist category at the Americana Music Association's Honors and Awards show earlier this month — and drew a standing ovation in the process.

Ferrell presents a winning version of Anderson's song "Years," the title track from his 2020 album of the same name. Since Anderson's version of "Years" was also produced by Auerbach and Ferguson and released on the Easy Eye Sound label, they did an outstanding job of letting Ferrell shine on her version — one of the best tracks of "Something Borrowed, Something New."

They continue their winning ways with "Wild and Blue" by Brent Cobb, whose laid-back vocal (in the best way) dances along on a cajun-influenced track that's also reminiscent of The Band. It even features an accordion, reminding me of the contributions keyboardist Garth Hudson would sometimes contribute to The Band's best tracks.

Nathaniel Rateliff's "Low Dog Blues" features some heavier production touches as does Erich Church's "Mississippi Moon," bringing them more of an edgy touch that has yet to win me over — although Church delivers some convincing vocals on "Moon."

Things get back on track when the incomparable Gillian Welch and David Rawlings bring on "I Just Came Home to Count the Memories." Everything those two touch — I mean sing — shines and this is no exception, with Rawlings also an exceptional guitarist.'

Tyler Childers contributes "Shoot Low Sheriff," a more obscure John Anderson song, at least to me.

I had high hopes for Luke Combs' version of one Anderson's best, "Seminole Wind." While Combs delivers a winning vocal, I'm mystified why producers Auerbach and Ferguson opted for a screaming electric guitar to replace the fiddle parts of Anderson's original version.

One of the album's best tracks follows — Sturgill Simspon's take on "When It Comes to You." He perfectly captures the pathos in the minor-key ode to that woman, with a "cold, cold heart" in a lyrical nod to Hank Williams. Here, the electric guitar solos and fills work fine in a song that didn't originate in Nashville with John Anderson's version, but from across the pond. None other than Mark Knopler wrote the song and included the original version in the Dire Straits album, "From Every Street."

Brothers Osborne tackle the bluesy-romper "You Can't Judge a Book By the Cover," while Sierra Hull joins bluegrass singer Del McCoury on "Would You Catch a Falling Star." Ashley McBride brings a female perspective to another Anderson hit, "Straight Tequila Night."

Anderson's take on the Billy Joe Shaver-written "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day)" has always been a favorite, and in this case, one of his best songs has been saved for last. Jamey Johnson does a gritty vocal take on the song, but I miss the Dobro and other traditional flourished from Anderson's original hit version.

So while I didn't but into every single Anderson update on the new tribute album, the ones that are good are very, very good. They include Prine's versions of "1959," Sierra Ferrell's "Years" and Cobbs' take on "Wild and Blue."

I'll give the same nod to "I Just Came Home to Count the Memories" by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings." And I can't wait to hear Sturgill Simpson's take on "When It Comes to You" again." I'll be listening to Jamey Johnson 's take on "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal" too.

Maybe some of the other tracks will grow on me or maybe they won't, but the album still has enough winners for at least half of it to be on my playlist.

Another thing — how cool it must be for Anderson to have a photo of him taken by Johnny Cash gracing the album cover, which also has an eye-catching design.

"Swingin' " isn't the only one of Anderson's hits not covered on the tribute album. Neither is "Black Sheep," "Chicken Truck," "Goin Downhill" and a number of his best songs. Oh well, I guess they couldn't include everything. And this way, if they should decide to record a second volume of Anderson tribute songs, there are still plenty of jewels from which to choose.

I even have a suggestion for the title of the next John Anderson tribute album if there is followup to "Something Borrowed, Something New."

Gentlemen, I submit for your consideration, "Something Wild, Something Blue: A Tribute to John Anderson, Volume 2."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.