No one underestimates Buddy Holly’s contribution to rock ’n’ roll, but it is easy to forget that by his death in 1959 at age 22—in a career spanning just a year and a half—he had created such a wealth of infectious pop songs. The 19 artists paying tribute to the coolest rock ’n’ roll nerd of all time on Rave On Buddy Holly (Fantasy/Concord Music Group) reads like a who’s who of pop music. Paul McCartney does a searing rendition of “It’s so Easy,” somehow retaining all of the endearing primitiveness of Holly’s wide-eyed discourse on love while stamping it with his trademark swagger.
Fiona Apple and Jon Brion deliver a delicate, sweet take of “Everyday” and Karen Elson’s version of “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” is pure beauty, with full orchestration and layered, melodramatic vocals that emphasize Holly’s angst. Julian Casablancas’ reverb-soaked punky vocals really propel “Rave On” and Jenny O. and She & Him’s versions of “I’m Gonna Love You Too” and “Oh Boy,” respectively, are sweet as pie. The best covers here are the ones that stay true to the original and don’t try to bring the song to a whole new level, because the genius of Holly’s songs is how much they accomplished in their simplicity. There’s no need to reinvent the rock ’n’ roll wheel. In the past 50 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find pop artists immune to Holly’s influence; Rave On finally compiled a group as influential as he was to pay tribute to the bespectacled bastion of rock ’n’ roll. [Anna Blumenthal]
cover art: Shore Fire Media