On the opening track, "I Can't Get You Off of My Mind," Bob Dylan sounds as if he's actually having fun (the accordion doesn't hurt) and adds his inimitable crustiness to a honky-tonk number originally recorded when Williams was a scant 23. The only other tune to approach buoyancy (not one of Williams' defining features) is Tom Petty's "You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave)," a real hoot because Petty's nasal whine hits the high end nearly as well as Williams'. Although no one can yodel like Williams, Sheryl Crow gives it a shot on a cleanly arranged version of "Long Gone Lonesome Blues." Offering interesting if not earth-shattering interpretations of Williams' characteristic ennui, Beck's "Your Cheatin' Heart" makes a lullaby out of a man's heartache-induced insomnia, and Ryan Adams turns "Lovesick Blues" into a lo-fi landscape. Lucinda Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart" extends Hank's maudlin lyrics to a bathetic extreme, a redundancy given Williams' lack of subtlety. Her hoarse vocals quiveringly lament the impossibility of love, but she ups the lyrical ante too much. It comes as no surprise that Hank III offers the best twang, seeing as how his likeness to the grandpap he never knew is uncanny, nor that Keith Richards' vocals are the record's weakest link, though his version of "You Win Again" adds a ragged, loose tetchedness that the younger contributors can't pull off.
The soulful rendition of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" is the best track, with Keb' Mo' drawing out new valences and imbuing his blues idiom with the sounds of spirituals from the last century. Clearly the only one of this group who could adapt one of Luke the Drifter's moral lessons, Johnny Cash gets the final word, reciting "I Dreamed About Mama Last Night" in his well-worn voice, making the performance -- and, for a moment, the song -- his own.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.