|Recording information: Beech House Recording Studios, Nashville, TN; Jackpot Recording, Portland, OR; Lake Fever Productions, Nashville, TN; Minutia Studios, Nashville, TN; The Cash Cabin Studio; The cave; The Village, West LA; Wall To Wall Studios, Chicago, IL.
|The late, multi-talented Shel Silverstein distinguished himself in so many different areas -- cartoons, children's books, screenplays, poems -- that his stellar songwriting sometimes gets overlooked. But in the `60s and `70s, he found success writing for both rock and country artists, most notably Johnny Cash, Bobby Bare, and Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, and was surely tickled by his place on the very short list of Jewish outlaw country pioneers. This all-star tribute to Silverstein's songs captures the poetry, the humor, and the pure emotion that made his catalog such a fertile source of material for other artists. Though he made a handful of album under his own name, Silverstein was never much of a singer -- honestly, he made Kris Kristofferson sound like Conway Twitty -- so there's none of that feeling one sometimes gets from a tribute album in which no one can sing the tunes like the honoree. Of course, the best-known versions of some of these songs are pretty iconic nevertheless, but almost everything is done justice here. Naturally, no one can live up to Johnny Cash's charismatic recording of "A Boy Named Sue," but the loose-limbed vibe Todd Snider brings to the tune feels like a natural fit. Likewise, Black Francis and Joey Santiago of the Pixies attack the old Dr. Hook hit "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" with so much gleeful sonic savagery that it stands up admirably alongside the original. Bobby Bare was one of the most consistent and perfectly suited interpreters of Silverstein's material -- some of Bare's best albums were written in their entirety by Silverstein -- but John Prine and Kris Kristofferson sound so at home in the Bare-associated "This Guitar Is for Sale" and "The Winner," respectively, that one might dare to think there are still new roads for these songs to travel. And even if your tolerance of kid-oriented tunes like "The Giving Tree" and the saccharine "Daddy What If" -- Silverstein was, after all, a hugely successful children's author -- is limited, there are only a couple of those moments to be skipped over on an otherwise impressive collection. ~ J. Allen