Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac
The 1970s are long gone, but Fleetwood Mac’s influence lives on.
“Just Tell Me That You Want Me” pushes the band’s music into the 21st century by rounding up a dozen or so modern acts — including MGMT, Best Coast and Lykke Li — and asking them to put their own stamp on the group’s classics.
Marianne Faithfull makes an appearance, too, singing “Angel” in a voice that’s become coarse with age, while ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons rasps his way through a swampy, guitar-fueled version of “Oh Well.” Both artists are Fleetwood Mac’s peers, and their presence lends some old-school cred to an album filled with fresh faces and new names. “Just Tell Me That You Want Me” spends most of its time focusing on a younger generation of Fleetwood Mac disciples, though, to mixed results.
It’s fun to hear the Kills, Washed Out and Lykke Li — three acts that make very modern-sounding music — tackle songs that are older than themselves. The Kills take the dreaminess out of “Dreams,” turning it into an angry woman’s lament, and Lykke Li croons “Silver Springs” like a modern-day torch singer. Washed Out’s rendition of “Straight Back” rides a wave of harmonies, acoustic guitar and pulsing kick drum, finding a surprising amount of mileage in a song that originally stalled on the charts back in 1982.
Not all cover songs are created equal, though. During a straightforward version of “Landslide,” folk singer Antony sinks beneath the weight of his own heavy vibrato, and Best Coast’s bubblegum version of “Rhiannon” sounds less like Fleetwood Mac and more like a subpar Go-Go’s. MGMT’s nine-minute “Future Games” is downright bizarre, drowning most of the song’s original beauty in a psychedelic swirl of distorted vocals and electronic squiggles.
Even so, the album skates by on the strength of its diversity. There’s something jarring — and slightly fun — about hearing Miss Faithfull’s wizened croak immediately after the New Pornographers’ bright harmonies, and the disc’s stronger covers tend to carry the weaker ones. Credit for the album’s smart sequencing goes to producers Randall Poster and Gelya Robb, who released a Grammy-nominated tribute to Buddy Holly last year and achieve similar results here.
With their mutton chops, Duane Allman haircuts and ever-present aviator sunglasses, the guys in Blackberry Smoke look as though they just stepped out of the 1970s. They sound that way, too, mining the same intersection of country, Southern rock and bluesy soul as groups such as Little Feat and .38 Special.
On “The Whippoorwill,” they get a little help from fellow Georgia native Zac Brown, who signed the group to his own label in 2011. Working with Mr. Brown seems to have rubbed off on Blackberry Smoke, who temper their twangy, guitar-fueled rock ‘n’ roll by padding this album — their third release — with more ballads and straightforward country numbers than usual. They may look like blue-collar ruffians, but even modern cowboys get tender once in awhile.
Still, “The Whippoorwill” sounds best during its faster moments. This is an album that relies on swagger as much as melody, an album built on swirling organ, loud guitar riffs and stomping percussion. The exception is the title track, a soulful song about regret and nostalgia, which manages to distill the band’s best attributes into five and a half unhurried minutes.
By Elaine Donnelly
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