Badlands—A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska — Various Artists
Like Bob Dylan and The Band's Basement Tapes, Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska was never even intended to be an album.
The songs, recorded on a portable 4-track cassette deck in the bedroom of Springsteen's New Jersey home in 1981, were initially envisioned as nothing other than demos. But those demos were released in their raw form, and Nebraska—with its dark, harrowing tales of murderers, convicts, poverty and disillusionment—painted an American portrait that was as revelatory as it was cinematic. It became one of the most influential albums of Springsteen's career.
Badlands offers a song-by-song return to the desolate terrain of Nebraska as interpreted by a cross-section of contemporary players. And while the varied interpretations are enlightening, there is a definite inconsistency to the set.
The wondrous voice of The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, teamed with her band's guitarist Adam Seymour, gets the disc off to a strong start on the song “Nebraska.” But the momentum shifts abruptly with a truly awful, in fact repulsive rendition of Springsteen's masterful “Atlantic City,” as decimated by none other than Hank III, the grandson of Hank Williams. That's definitely the disc's low-light, but more intriguing offerings, like Los Lobos' baritone-sax driven rendition of “Johnny 99” and a keyboard-swirling spin through “Mansion on the Hill” by the obscure Crooked Fingers, are far more appealing. And one of the album's most captivating contributions comes from rising folk star Dar Williams, whose breathy, harmony-tinged re-working of “Highway Patrolman” brings life to this poignant saga about two brothers whose lives take dramatically different turns.