Fans of Buffalo Springfield may rejoice that at last this key band has been memorialized on a tribute album. It’s a generous disc, too, with 21 songs and nearly 70 minutes of music. Five Way Street gives almost equal coverage to each of the group’s three proper albums, while tossing in some rarities that first appeared on the cleverly titled Box Set five years ago. The disc is also split evenly between the songs of Stephen Stills and Neil Young, with Richie Furay only slightly underrepresented with a single track. And for those only familiar with the hits, you’ll be glad to know that almost all the biggies are on board; the only song on the Retrospective compilation not represented here is “Broken Arrow”, and it is certainly not missed, as any attempt to cover it would’ve likely failed.
Not that Buffalo Springfield had a lot of hits, actually. “For What it’s Worth” was their only Top-40 single, and the only Buffalo Springfield song you’re likely to hear on the radio unless you live someplace really cool, like Los Angeles circa 1967. It’s also the only song in the group’s catalogue that could legitimately be called “iconic,” and so powerful that even an eye-rollingly pompous version by Stills on CSN&Y’s Four Way Street couldn’t damage it. So it comes as a pleasant surprise that the rendition here, by singer-songwriter Marc Carroll, is a fine re-envisioning of the original, and one of Five Way Street‘s highlights. Carroll, who plays all the instruments on his recording, slows “For What it’s Worth” down just a bit, but it’s enough to make it sound almost sad, and a change in mood is sometimes much more significant than a change in music. As far as the music is concerned, the piano intro sounds strikingly similar to Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”, and it’s the piano and some delicately placed guitar chords that form the bulk of the instrumentation here. It’s not a particularly radical reworking of the song, but it’s a hell of a lot more effective than it would’ve been if Carroll had played it totally safe.
Five Way Street: A Tribute to Buffalo Springfield
US: 12 Sep 2006
UK: Available as import
Unfortunately, a lot of the performers here do just that, although the disc never really suffers as a result. The only total dud here is Byrds of a Feather’s “Bluebird”, which somehow manages to be both too reverent and incomplete, sacrificing the gentler conclusion to the song and pumping up the hard electricity of the first part. Considering their note-for-note copying of guitar licks and other hooks, it’s strange that Byrds of a Feather mangle the lyrics and don’t play the entire song. So, yeah, “Bluebird” is a sorry excuse for a “tribute,” but it’s also the second track here, which means there’s plenty of time to forget about it. In fact, even the song right after it will surprise the casual Buffalo Springfield fan, as it can’t be found on any of the group’s regular albums. “We’ll See” was one of the highlights of Box Set, presented there in two versions. The Retros cover the full-band rock version rather than the Stills/Furay acoustic duet, which is a minor disappointment (at least to me), but it’s mostly just nice to see this fantastic song getting a little attention. Nevertheless, the Retros do a pretty straightforward copy of Buffalo Springfield’s original, and this is the order of the day for most of the performers on Five Way Street. Sometimes the versions here are a bit harder (“Burned” and “Sit Down I Think I Love You” both work well), but mostly they stick close to the template. Even in some of the latter cases, though, there are little changes that make a difference. The Kennedys, for instance, don’t mess with the Latin-tinged music of “Pretty Girl Why”, but a female vocal does have its way of opening the song up to a new reading in terms of gender. (The Grip Weeds, for what it’s worth, are the only other band with a female vocalist, and their take on “Down to the Wire” is pretty good as well.)
The only performance other than Carroll’s that sounds really different comes courtesy of Maplewood, who add lap steel and flute to “I Am a Child”. The steel doesn’t seem too adventurous at first mention, I’m sure, but this isn’t your generic country steel sound at all. What it adds here is an almost otherworldly sound, far less predictable than the group’s original arrangement should’ve inspired. And the flute is a marvelously weird touch. Really, the instrumentation on “I Am a Child” more than compensates for a somewhat yokel-sounding lead vocal (although the harmonies are great).
Even though Five Way Street doesn’t offer much in the way of innovation, even a casual fan of the group might do well to check out this tribute, as at least a few of the performances are remarkable and virtually all of them are at least good. For devoted Springfield buffs, it’s a must-hear.
// Notes from the Road
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