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CD Reviews:  Listen to What the Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute to Paul McCartney

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If you've ever been on a band's e-mail list, you know that one of the most popular threads is to create a perfect tribute album, to find like-minded artists who could truly do justice to the artist in question. This topic exists, I believe, because most tribute albums, while having the best of intentions, are woefully misguided (the Fleetwood Mac tribute to Rumours, for example). It seems that somewhere in between concept and completion, the record company muckety mucks lose track of which artists are the right ones for the songs, and instead choose the artists that they think will sell the most records. The problem is, the records wind up not selling, because they picked the wrong artists. It's built in obsolescence. 

Not so this time. Listen to What the Man Said features an incredible roster of talent assembled by polling fans of Paul McCartney and Beatlesque power pop. What a novel idea; get the people who were clearly most influenced by Sir Paul to pay homage, regardless of star power. The end result, while not perfect, is arguably the best tribute album since If I Were a Carpenter or Sing Hollies in Reverse.

Some artists wisely chose to stay faithful to the original, like Owsley's dead-on remake of "Band on the Run" that starts things off. Semisonic stays close to the source of "Jet" as well, and while singer Dan Wilson does a great job, the backing track could use some punch. World Party's version of "Man We Was Lonely" just shimmers, with singer Karl Wallinger turning in yet another terrific cover of a song by a Beatle. (Look for his versions of "Penny Lane" and "Happiness Is a Warm Gun.") Ditto Barenaked Ladies' Stephen Page and Kevin Hearn, who teamed up with Lilac Time frontman Stephen Duffy on a cover of the song "Junk" that's so good, so effortless, you'd swear it was one of their own songs and not a cover.

In some instances, the covers actually top the originals. Sloan's revved up take on the ballad "Waterfalls" is inspired, as is the John Faye Power Trip's reading of "Coming Up." Sweden's Merrymakers, one of the best pop bands you've never heard, does a marvelous job on "No More Lonely Nights." SR-71, however, doesn't fare as well on their supposed rockin' cover of "My Brave Face," and Robyn Hitchcock just doesn't have enough soul to do justice to the bluesy "Let Me Roll It." However, these missteps are still tolerable thanks to the source material, and the rest of the artists (I haven't even mentioned the songs by Matthew Sweet, Neil and Tim Finn and They Might Be Giants yet) more than make up for the few songs that miss the mark.

Listen to What the Man Said is a gem, a testament to how much Paul McCartney accomplished as a solo artist, never mind his incredible work with the greatest band of all time. Few tribute albums pay as much respect to their artists as this one does. And the best part? There is a companion piece to this CD, a tribute album comprised of indie pop artists called Coming Up, that is supposedly as good or better than this one. Stay tuned. 

~David Medsker

Also see:
Coming Up: Independent Artists Pay Tribute to Paul McCartney
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