COMMON THREAD: THE SONGS OF THE EAGLES
Various Artists (Giant 24531)
It's no secret that contemporary country acts owe something to the sound of the Eagles; what may come as a surprise is how great that debt is. Maybe that's why almost every new star in Nashville turned out for "Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles." The idea behind this tribute album is simple enough -- DTC choose an Eagles oldie and give it your best -- and many of the performers here take the task at face value, turning in cover-band-perfect renditions of "Lyin' Eyes" (Diamond Rio) and "Best of My Love" (Brooks & Dunn). But the most interesting moments come when the singers move beyond the expected, like the way John Anderson adds a bluesy twang to "Heartache Tonight," or Tanya Tucker slips extra pathos into "Already Gone." And while there are a few noteworthy absences -- wouldn't it have been great to hear Garth Brooks tackle "Life In the Fast Lane"? -- on the whole, "Common Thread" holds together magnificently.
Tony Bennett (Columbia 57424)
Everybody knows Fred Astaire was a great dancer, but what many forget these days was that he was an equally accomplished singer; indeed, it was often said that few could sell a song as stylishly as he could. Tony Bennett is a fairly stylish singer as well, and as such there's every reason to expect sparks from "Steppin' Out," an album devoted to songs Astaire made famous. Admittedly, it's not a perfect match -- Bennett's phrasing is much jazzier than Astaire's, and that adds a little too much momentum to tunes like "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" -- but at its best, it shows that Bennett can get to the heart of a song just as easily as Astaire did. Now if only he were to work on his choreography . . .
IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS
Various Artists (Restless 72747)
Whether or not you agree with their politics, there's no denying that the animal rights people have the best music of any movement on the political spectrum. Just look at the array of talent on "In Defense of Animals," a benefit album whose contributors include such major stars as Pearl Jam, Primus, Lush and Helmet. Granted, a fair number of the tracks can be found elsewhere, but a few are genuine rarities, like R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe's eerie, arty remake of the Robyn Hitchcock tune "Arms of Love," or Concrete Blonde's deliciously arch take on "Crystal Blue Persuasion." And though some of the selections are pointedly didactic (Boogie Down Production's "Beef," for instance), others -- like Sarah McLachlan's luminescent "Shelter" -- make their point more through inference than direct expression.
Def Leppard (Mercury 314 518 305)
Given the band's reputation for studio perfectionism, it would be hard to imagine that any Def Leppard album was just "thrown together." Yet that's pretty much the impression given by "Retro Spective" -- and, frankly, the music's better for it. While few of the songs here rank among the band's catchiest, there's no denying the music's energy and good humor, particularly when the Leps rip into oldies like "Ride Into the Sun" (a song that dates back to the band's first EP) or the Sweet's chant-along rocker "Action." But the album's brightest moment is probably its least expected -- a lovely, Irish-tinged ballad called "From the Inside." Not bad for a grab-bag collection.