[6 December 2011]
Like all multi-artist tribute albums, The 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute is only as good as its strongest contributors, and unfortunately, most of the contributors on this volume seem more intent on cautious mimicry rather than bold adventurousness. John Lennon was a famously daring rock & roller, but judging by the performances here, most of the attendees at this concert would rather have reverent, note-for-note recreations of his songs. Me’Shell Ndegeocello turns “God” into a murky, ominous anthem for the Richard Dawkins generation, while Alejandro Escovedo delivers a version of “Help!” that, in its slow, quiet moodiness, captures the desperation at the heart of the song. With these versions, the crowd seems bewildered. By contrast, Martin Sexton’s cover of “Working Class Hero” is identical to Lennon’s original, just as Joan Osborne’s Xeroxed rendition of “Hey Bulldog” recreates all of the barking and joking, and the crowd goes wild for both. Of course, not even the rather staid audience can resist getting caught up in Bettye Lavette’s gospel reworking of “The Word”, but for the most part performers with usually strong musical identities like Aimee Mann and Taj Mahal end up giving overly worshipful recreations of Beatles and Lennon songs, making this a rather dull and unnecessary release. Maybe you had to be there.