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Various Artists
You Got Lucky--A Tribute to Tom Petty
(Backyard)

You can't polish a turd, as Eleanor Roosevelt used to say, and that's one of the main problems with so many "tribute" albums these days. Sure, the Carpenters had a couple of great, ultralite pop songs, but most of them were simply not good. Doesn't matter who's playing 'em; if the song sucks, it sucks.

Which brings us to You Got Lucky--A Tribute to Tom Petty. If you buy one tribute album this year, let it be this one.

Why? The bottom line is that the songs are bloody great. Petty can create a perfect tune, and if you can do that, it doesn't matter whether the reading is done by a ukulele, a symphony or a Marshall stack. That, combined with the choice of bands--all independent, underground acts--gives a fresh feel overall. Plus, unlike the homage to the Carpenters, it's actually plausible that the bands participating actually listened to Petty's music. Witness the laid-back tension Dexter Methoropham produces for "Southern Accents," Edsel's powerful, Dischord-does-pop take on "You Got Lucky," or Loud Lucy with Louise Post (as Stevie Nicks) as they manage to wring the cheese from "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." And Everclear slaps the shit out of "American Girl"--talk about hooks!

If these were new songs, they could all be hits. It's a tribute not just to the writer but to the bands that this music adapts so well to the natural sound of each group. Now if anyone could just write stuff like this . . . --Peter Gilstrap

Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Sleeps With Angels
(Reprise)

Crosby, Stills and Nash
After the Storm
(Atlantic)

Let's admit the truth: Since Neil Young left Geffen, the company that sued him for not sounding enough like Neil Young, all his "risk-taking" amounts to is a series of alternating acoustic and electric albums.

Though a Crazy Horse set was inevitable after the subdued Harvest Moon, this collection is not entirely predictable. "Safeway Cart" is a creepy alchemy of Kraftwerk and Tonight's the Night, while "Western Hero" would've made a great song over which to roll the credits of Unforgiven.

But you may find yourself witnessing the first actual sign of senility in the Young camp. There's plenty of repetition: "Western Hero" turns up again as "Train of Love"; lyrics from "Change Your Mind" turn up in "Blue Eden." And "Sleeps With Angels," Young's vague eulogy to Kurt Cobain, is a lesser cousin to "Rust Never Sleeps," his brilliant eulogy to Johnny Rotten.

Given an artist of Young's stature, a lot of the cross-referencing is probably intentional. But you've gotta wonder about the intention behind padding "Change Your Mind" to 14 (!) minutes with an extended guitar solo more dull even than the song's chorus. "Like a Hurricane" it ain't--just long-winded. Despite this album's disappointments, the law of diminishing returns may not apply just yet. Stay of execution.

As for CSN, lowered expectations have been a way of life for almost 20 years. What has changed is that the trio now seems to relish its boring-old-fartdom. Especially Crosby. While Neil is busy singing about drive-by shootings, Crosby sings about wishing he were a camera so that he could take pictures of people while he rides by on his bicycle. Never mind that if he were a camera, he couldn't possibly operate the vehicle. If The Incredible Mr. Limpet taught us anything, it's to be careful what you wish for. Elsewhere, Crosby even seems chipper about running into homeless people ("They ain't got a Galleria/They ain't got no mall/Just the street to lean on when they fall"). Does the Club Med vacation ever end for this guy?

Stills would be enjoying his twilight years if only the Woodstock generation had done a better job of teaching its children well. After hearing "Bad Boyz" (Stills' attempt at de-reggae-fying the Cops theme), you imagine packs of wild kids terrorizing the balding star every time he goes out to the mailbox to pick up a royalty check. It's hard to imagine any youngsters wanting to hear his "what's the matter with kids today" raps. But unlike Sleeps With Angels, After the Storm is the kind of album CPAs and granola manufacturers from the Age of Aquarius might enjoy hearing.--Serene Dominic

Bootsy Collins Back in the Day: The Best of Bootsy
(Warner Archives)

William Collins' contributions to the world of funk are extensive, to say the least. He was a key collaborator with both James Brown and George Clinton, but his star shone most brightly on the megalomaniacal sides he cut under the Bootsy moniker. Unless you can transport yourself onto the set of Good Times circa 1977, most of this compilation will sound hopelessly dated. Without the visuals, you're really getting only half the Bootsy story. That said, Bootsy's strange ad-libs are hilarious ("My name is Casper, the friendly ghost/Come up under my sheet--with a friendly BOOOOOOO!"), and the live "Psychotichumpschool," complete with sassy brass, sounds the most commanding and vital today. These grooves have been sampled numerous times, and, oddly enough, they probably make more sense in the context of someone else's recordings than they do here. Supremely funky. And unrelentingly silly.--Serene Dominic

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