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Track List:

1. Nebraska - Chrissie Hynde And Adam Seymour
2. Atlantic City - Hank III
3. Mansion On The Hill - Crooked Fingers (Eric Bachman, ex Archers of Loaf)
4. Johnny 99 - Los Lobos
5. Highway Patrolman - Dar Williams
6. State Trooper - Deanna Carter
7. Used Cars - Ani DiFranco
8. Open All Night - Son Volt
9. My Father's House - Ben Harper
10. Reason To Believe - Aimee Mann And Michael Penn
11. I'm On Fire - Johnny Cash (Bonus Track)
12. Downbound Train - Raul Malo of the Mavericks (Bonus Track)
13. Wages Of Sin - Damien Jurado And Rose Thomas (Bonus Track)

Various Artists - Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska (Sub Pop)

The reality of most tribute albums is that, generally, these non-traditional releases do not pay honest homage to their artists of study. Many are actually tributes to record labels' marketing departments, who are adept at spotting music trends, assembling rosters of commercially viable dregs, and turning a quick buck before vanishing in the wind (reference the Black Sabbath tribute Nativity in Black II). Fortunately, the myriad of tributes that fall into this cesspool of creative depravity allow true artistic statements like Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska to stand proud and visible.

The most compelling aspect of this particular tribute album—aside from its impressive stable of grassroots artists—is its conceptual nature. Whereas most tributes focus on an artist's overall career and cover only the hits, Badlands is an acknowledgment of the greatness of a single album. Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska (1982) is a creative declaration that has proven timeless. The lo-fidelity, self-recorded demo (released in its original, raw form) was, and still is, one of the only major label albums of its kind. The producers of Badlands asked each artist to maintain these minimalist standards when approaching the Boss's tracks; the results are admirable.

There are no weak links on Badlands. Special recognition goes to Hank Williams III for his direct, honky-tonk take on "Atlantic City," and Dar Williams for her articulate version of "Highway Patrolman." Moreover, Deanna Carter gains some major cred with a haunting "State Trooper," while Ben Harper ("My Father's House") shows that minimal recording techniques can still aptly capture his essence. Additionally, Johnny Cash's "I'm on Fire" and Raul Malo's (Mavericks) account of "Downbound Train"—songs recorded during the Nebraska sessions, yet not included on the original release—are both pretty phenomenal.

The mark of a quality tribute album is that it should spark interest in the subject of praise without focusing too heavily on the contributing artists. Badlands accomplishes this feat deftly, and may introduce a younger generation to the genius of Bruce Springsteen. Chances are good that Nebraska will see a marked increase in sales eighteen years after its original release. Both Nebraska and its Badlands tribute are record collection essentials.

by Bret Booth

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