Various artists

The I-10 Chronicles
(Back Porch)

As various-artist-album concepts go, this one is pretty unique. Rather than celebrate one artist, this one praises an interstate. You know it, you love it, you can't get to work without it -- ladies and gentlemen, I give you I-10! You might think the assembled artists would opt to take the easy route and cover "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "El Paso"; instead, Chronicles offers less-traveled versions of songs like Guy Clark's "L.A. Freeway" and Ry Cooder and John Hiatt's "Across the Borderline." If the selections aren't so region-specific, the artists and their accents more than pick up the slack.

For those of you who collect various-artist albums to get the complete works of Collective Soul, sorry, they're not included here. No groups allowed on this trek, just loners riding the same rhythm section. In fact, what makes this road trip so comfortable is that it's running low on star power. Outside of Willie Nelson, a background vocal by Emmylou Harris, some Joe Ely numbers and a turn by Adam Duritz, there aren't many familiar voices to distract from the scenery. Nelson turns in a fine tribute to Ratso Rizzo with "Everybody's Talkin'," and you get to hear the song with a real harmonica break instead of the one Nilsson simulated. The Counting Crow-er gets in a pretty good version of "Carmelita," especially if you forgot Warren Zevon's version and just remembered the Linda Ronstadt one.

Strangers on this trip who left an impression also include Bill Hearne, whose rasp makes you feel every inch of Ian Tyson's "Eighteen Inches of Rain," and Cherokee Rose's traditional Native American chant "Yipi." But if someone let me take the wheel, I'd make sure to take off while the zydeco accordionists were still peeing at the rest stop.

 
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