Rave on Buddy Holly
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2012, Volume 19, #1
Written by John Metzger
Fri January 20, 2012, 05:30 AM CST
Buddy Holly was a visionary. Although he might not have invented rock 'n' roll, he certainly was one of its principal architects. Tragically, Holly died in a plane crash at the age of 22, but he left behind a stellar body of work that becomes even more remarkable when one takes note of the fact that all of his music — from his amateur demos in 1954 to his final sessions in 1959 — was recorded over the span of five years. In fact, Holly issued only three albums in his lifetime, and he was able to enjoy life as a superstar for merely 18 months. Yet, his songs have remained so durable and vital that they have inspired countless artists from multiple generations to pick up their guitars and play.
As a means of honoring what would have been Holly's 75th birthday, Hear Music — the subsidiary of Concord that has been tremendously successful at giving classic artists greater independence from the major-label system — assembled Rave on Buddy Holly, a collection of 19 tunes that have long been associated with the versatile songwriter and performer. In a testament to the reach of his legacy, the acts who contributed to the set could easily be aligned to form a linear path backward through time, from today's hit-makers The Black Keys to British Invasion instigator Paul McCartney.
The best news about Rave on Buddy Holly is that none of its tracks fall flat. Further, unlike many tribute sets, there seems to have been a great deal of deliberation about the flow of the set. The contributions of newcomers and old-timers alike are commingled in a way that makes them all add to Rave on Buddy Holly's overarching storyline. In particular, when the craggy desperation that Lou Reed brings to Peggy Sue gives way to the slowly unveiling sorrow that John Doe lends to Peggy Sue Got Married, the final moments of the endeavor are given tremendous gravity and weight.
Holly's songs were simple, which is part of the reason that they also are so malleable. The artists who contributed to Rave On Buddy Holly carry the material in all sorts of directions, sometimes wrapping the songs in modern textures and sometimes stripping them to their barest Texas-bred roots. In regard to the former, Florence and the Machine delivers an atmospheric rendition of Not Fade Away that is steeped in late-night R&B, while Justin Townes Earle takes care of the latter style by subtly adding some twang to Maybe Baby. Elsewhere, McCartney nearly comes unhinged with a garage-rock rendition of It's So Easy that is so insanely delirious that it becomes pure fun. Patti Smith lets the ache of a broken heart saturate Words of Love, and Nick Lowe connects Holly's influence to Sun Studios with his playful romp through Changing All These Changes.
In truth, Rave on Buddy Holly falters only because it contains so much material. While it likely is true that 19 songs were featured simply to bring the collection closer to the length of modern-day albums, this doesn't make up for the fact that there are a lot of similarities among them. Holly often managed to make his tunes feel more dissimilar than they were, but by replacing the original rendition of Oh Boy!'s aggressive charge with a gentle lilt, She & Him made the track virtually interchangeable with Everyday's bittersweet tone, which Fiona Apple and Jon Brion lovingly replicated. Nevertheless, although it's hardly perfect, Rave on Buddy Holly still succeeds in its mission to elevate both Holly's profile and his enduring legacy. ½
Of Further Interest...
Rave on Buddy Holly is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2012 The Music Box