N o one has figured out why they chose Cleveland, but nonetheless, that's where the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Museum opened its doors last September, with a seven-hour concert that revealed just how integrated American music has become in the second half of this century. With performances ranging from The Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis, to Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, Chairman of the Bored Iggy Pop and pseudo grunge-rockers Soul Asylum, the concert was a reminder that if R&B did indeed have a baby named Rock 'n' Roll, then we mustn't forget his granddaddy was the Blues, his step-sister Soul, his bad-ass brother Funk, his outlaw cousin Country/Western and his rebel son Punk. And the whole family made it to this reunion.
On the rich, eclectic and thoroughly enjoyable double CD package that Columbia Records has put together to commemorate the event, some of the sweetest moments belong to rock's extended family. You can almost see The Rev. Al Green dropping to his knees during his inspired rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," and his version of "Tired of Being Alone" is wrenchingly sublime. Soul also has its say with Sam Moore's jazzed-up version of "Hold On, I'm Coming," Aretha rocking out on "I Can't Turn You Loose" and The Godfather, James Brown, giving his blessing with "This is a Man's World."
Fittingly for a collection saluting rock's elders and those who have passed on, there are a number of top-notch cover versions. Jackson Browne delivers a tender, acoustic version of "Redemption Song" saluting reggae's high priest, Bob Marley. In another touching tribute, Bruce Hornsby remembers close friend and fellow collaborator Jerry Garcia with a version of "I Know You Rider" that begins with the hauntingly beautiful piano solo from the song "Terrapin Station."
In the funk vein, George Clinton and former Sly and the Family Stone bass player Larry Graham
turn the temperature all the way up with sweaty, pulsating versions of Sly's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" and "I Want to Take You Higher."
Equally sexy, but in a bluesy vein, Natalie Merchant torches up Dinah Washington's "I Know How to Do It" with stunningly sultry blues vocals that I had no idea she knew how to do. Also doing the blues justice were Boz Scaggs and Slash, (yes, that's right), pairing up for a very respectable version of Hendrix's "Red House." Slash smokes on a guitar with just the right amount of fuzz. Who knew those white boys could sound so blue?
Even country music is represented, with Johnny Cash's
Prison Blues" proving The Man in Black can rock up there with the best of them.
Soul Asylum backs two of the New York music scene's legendary warriors, Iggy
Pop and Lou Reed. Never known to be squeamish or shy, Iggy gives a blistering rendition of Willie Dixon's "Back Door Man," changing the "I eat more chicken" line to "I eat more pussy." Punctuated with his trademark whoops and shrieks, he makes the song his own. Though definitely a worthy version of a classic tune, Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" doesn't pack the same punch. Lou's voice sounds tired and let's face it, if you've grown up with the live Rock 'n' Roll Animal version of "Sweet Jane," nothing else will cut it.
Bruce Springsteen reunites with Clarence Clemons and the rest of the E Street Band to collaborate with Jerry Lee Lewis on "Shake, Rattle and Roll" in a salute to Big Joe Turner before going on to cover two of Lewis' classics, "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." At 60, Lewis apparently still has the energy and the vocal ability he did in his early 20's.
While those covers make for some of the album's best moments, a good portion of the album is devoted to songs performed by the original artists. John Fogerty teams with Booker T. and the MGs to blaze through spectacular versions of "Born on the Bayou" and "Fortunate Son." Booker T. and his band also contribute their own hit "Green Onions." Bob Dylan rips through an upbeat "All Along the Watchtower," Ohio native Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders do "My City Was Gone" and The Allman Brothers Band deliver two solid cuts, "Blue Sky" and "One Way Out," with stalwart guitarist Dickie Betts showing no sign of ever slowing down.
The performances recorded here are a well-chosen sampling of rock's sometimes dysfunctional but always colorful family, and the energy of this reunion is both palpable and infectious. This collection celebrates the evolution of rock music in fine partying style. The 28 tracks of "The Concert for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame" are testament both to the rich variety of musical styles that preceded rock and to the raw, adventurous music itself.