Various Artists: Just Tell Me That You Want Me (Fleetwood Mac tribute)
-- By Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
Tribute albums aren't exactly disreputable, but they're spotty by nature: There are so many ways to cover a song, and so much baggage attached to an artist's best-known work, that someone's bound to do it wrong along the way. Big-name music supervisor Randall Poster and co-producer Gelya Robb assembled last year's Rave On Buddy Holly compilation - the one that attracted the likes of Paul McCartney, The Black Keys, Fiona Apple and Lou Reed - so they've got enough clout to load their lineups with big names who'll actually try to impress. Consequently, that album and the new Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac possess both a sense of cohesion and a reasonably high hit rate.
Of course, Just Tell Me That You Want Me (out August 14) also benefits from a rich vein of source material: Fleetwood Mac has been making music for 45 years, and its diverse catalog lends itself well to reinterpretation and reinvention. Most of these 17 covers play out with a good deal of reverence: The unimpeachable "Landslide," for example, is covered with maximum sensitivity by Antony and the Johnsons' Antony Hegarty, whose hyper-vulnerable warble proves a good match for the song. Elsewhere, Black Dub's Trixie Whitley (son of Chris) lends "Before the Beginning" her powerhouse blues bellow, while Matt Sweeney and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy give "Storms" a sweet, suitably shambling reading. Best of all, The New Pornographers' blissed-out take on "Think About Me" - sparkly, sure, but also a little sad - makes a perfect power-pop throwback, combining the best of everyone involved. Not surprisingly, given the source material, women play a prominent role in the lineup here: Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino ("Rhiannon"), Karen Elson ("Gold Dust Woman"), Lykke Li ("Silver Springs") and others take high-profile turns, making Just Tell Me That You Want Me more than your typical boy-centric indie-rock showcase.
Just Tell Me That You Want Me does feel a bit like two albums in one: Its more pop-driven first half butts up against hazier, more dance-driven musings in the second, as the likes of Washed Out ("Straight Back") and MGMT (a nine-minute "Future Games") turn on the machines for less straightforward interpretations. Of course, Fleetwood Mac has made its own share of radical moves along the way, and The Crystal Ark pops up late to take on the herculean task that is "Tusk" - a reminder that doing justice to Fleetwood Mac necessitates a lot of bands (17 of them, it turns out), a lot of singers and a lot of risk-taking. There's no greater tribute than that.
Just Tell Me That You Want Me will be available to stream on demand from July 30 through August 6, 2012.