The advent of the tribute album — that is, a bunch of contemporary musicians performing new versions of classic songs by a legendary band or singer — is hardly a new trend in the music industry. Actually, with the increase in downloading and streaming in recent years, you don’t see that many tribute albums released any longer. From the record company’s perspective, I guess it’s no longer a marketable idea.
Thus, seeing the recent release of Standing at the Gates: The Songs of Nada Surf’s Let Go was an unexpected but joyous one. Not only is Nada Surf a relatively obscure band, but to pick a single album by them was a daring but brilliant idea. Except for Aimee Mann and Ed Harcourt, chances are you have never heard anything by most of the other artists on here, but rest assured they all do these songs proud; this a thoroughly wonderful album. Then again, the original Let Go was packed with solid songs, so to hear the great new versions of those songs is not so far-fetched a proposition.
I’m almost reluctant to choose highlights from this album, seeing as how I love every track, but special mention has to go to the opening track, Manchester Orchestra’s version of “Blizzard of ‘77”, The Texas Gentlemen’s take on “Inside of Love”, Rogue Wave doing a faithful cover of “Blonde on Blonde”, The Long Winter tearing it up on “Hi-Speed Soul,” an equally torrid version of “The Way You Wear Your Head” by Charly Bliss”, and Aimee Mann’s tender take on “Paper Boats”. But my favorite track on this album is the instrumental version of “Neither Heaven Nor Space” by William Tyler. Imagine the guitar sound of Chris Isaak morphing into something magically atmospheric like what Vini Reilly could do with the Durutti Column and you have an idea of how special this sounds. I’m transported every time.
Another incentive to buy this album (and I would urge all music lovers to support the artists and BUY as much music from musicians and retail stores as you can) is that proceeds from the sales of this album go to the ACLU and the Pablove Foundation, a very worthy non-profit organization that helps children that are suffering from cancer.
And while I’m at it, I can’t neglect mentioning Nada Surf’s own tribute album, the batch of cool covers that constituted their wonderful If I Had a Hi-Fi album from 2010. For this album they choose songs by the likes of the Dwight Twilley Band, Arthur Russell, Kate Bush, the Go-Betweens, Depeche Mode, the Moody Blues, and a handful of more obscure artists. The result, as expected, was sheer musical bliss. If you haven’t heard anything by Nada Surf before, get this one, or any of their other studio albums. They are all worthwhile listens.