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May 28, 2024

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Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska (Sub Pop)

By: Alex Steininger

Sub Pop's tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, the revolutionary album Springsteen recorded in 1981 on a four-track Teac tape machine in his New Jersey bedroom, originally recorded as a demo, gives some of today's most influential artists a chance to revisit the songs they were influenced by.

Chrissie Hynde and Adam Seymour deliver a tender, dark version of "Nebraska." Los Lobos turn "Johnny 99" into an upbeat Mexican rocker. Though, the song is about an out-of-work autoworker, Los Lobos manage to keep the integrity of the song while giving the music a happy-go-lucky feel.

Son Volt's take on "Open All Night" is an alt-country masterpiece, adding an icy, harrowing feel to the song. Meanwhile, Ani DiFranco's version of "Used Cars" is slow, intimate, and compelling. The intimacy and tenderness of Springsteen's original isn't surpassed, but DiFranco does a good job of maintaining it while adding her own feelings and perception into it all.

It's Johnny Cash's recording of "I'm On Fire," a song originally recorded for Nebraska, that really heats up Badlands and makes it worth owning, even if you already own the original. Cash's man-in-black persona and deadpan, experienced-it-all voice spits out the dark, tragic lyrics with such pensiveness.

Newcomers like Crooked Fingers, Hank Williams III, and Damien Jurado and Rose Thomas add some young blood to the album as well. Crooked Fingers' rendition of "Man on the Hill" is indie pop perfection. The buzz of the keys, the airy vocals, and the silent hooks make this one of the most memorable recordings on this album. Hank Williams III rockabilly version of "Atlantic City" adds yet another dimension to Springsteen's song and shows the massive influence he's had on everyone in every genre.

Tribute albums are notorious for never being as good as the originals. And though Springsteen's originals can't be beat (that's obvious), the artists on this tribute do a great job of re-shaping the songs on Nebraska and giving them a different personality, while maintaining the thoughts and feelings of the original. I'll give this an A.

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