BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Any attempt to pay tribute to a significant album that helped alter the course of modern music comes with risk. For one thing, it’s never going to be as great as the original masterpiece. For another, it’s forced to measure up to a higher bar, that is, that set by the seminal effort in the first place. While the cover artists involved may have the best of intentions, the fact remains that their best chance for success is to evoke the feel and aura that was shared early on.
That said, there can be additional justification for the attempt when the artists charged with the re-imagining had some connection to the album initially. Happily, that’s the case here, as venerable pedal steel players Lloyd Green and Jay Dee Maness revisit the Byrds’ often unappreciated classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the album that provided the elusive link between country and rock and roll 50 years ago. While recreating the songs sung by Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons is a formidable task at best, one that will never supersede the Byrds accomplishment, Green and Maness can claim some share of the glory in that their contributions on pedal steel, as well as that of another of the current participants, piano player Earle Pool Ball, provided some of the essential elements in helping to bridge the stylistic divide.
Consequently, there’s an unerring feeling of familiarity in these instrumental renditions, based largely on the fact that the arrangements stay so true to the template. There’s instant recognition on first hearing, particularly when it comes to songs such as “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “You’re Still On My Mind,” “I Am a Pilgrim, “Hickory Wind,” and the like, but inevitably, without the distinctive vocals that graced the songs early on, it becomes akin to hearing the demos or backing tracks sans the complete package. The final reprise, a new vocal version of You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” featuring an all star ensemble that includes Richie Furay, Jim Lauderdale, Herb Peterson, and Jeff Hanna,constitutes a remarkable read, but also leaves one wishing that their vocal talents had been utilized throughout. A credible remake, the album’s biggest accomplishment will likely be to drive listeners to the original album in order to hear more.
DOWNLOAD: “I Am a Pilgrim,” “Hickory Wind,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Reprise)”