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Iron Horse, Fade to Bluegrass: The Bluegrass Tribute to Metallica (CMH)
Bluegrass cover versions of old heavy metal songs has been a bit of a novelty in recent years. Austin, Texas's The Meat Purveyors recorded a brilliant version of Ratt's 1984 hit "Round and Round" back in 2002, and country jokesters Hayseed Dixie have put out several tongue-in-cheek albums of reworked material by AC/DC, Kiss, and other classic rockers. Less facetious is Fade to Bluegrass: The Bluegrass Tribute to Metallica, as bluegrass quartet Iron Horse have attempted to tackle the vast, challenging catalogue of, yes, Metallica, their intentions dead serious, and although the album is disappointingly hit and miss, the finer moments offer fascinating new views of several songs. One thing that metal and bluegrass have in common is the often very complicated arrangements, and another is the often dark subject matter; Metallica's James Hetfield has slowly developed a songwriting style that embraces the dark side of country ("The Unforgiven") and blues ("Wherever I May Roam"), so some of this album's tracks are a perfect fit for the bluegrass treatment. "Nothing Else Matters", "Hero of the Day", and surprisingly, the classic "Fade to Black" all work extremely well, combining deft solos, and beautiful harmony vocals (the band's vocals on the final verse of "Fade to Black" is especially chilling). Unfortunately, the experiment fails too often to completely win you over, as clunky, awkward renditions of "Enter Sandman", "One", and "Ride the Lightning" sound much too forced. It's one of those tribute albums where the mere idea sounds more intriguing than the actual result.