[10 January 2014]
California punk bastion Tony Sly shuffled off this mortal coil on July 31, 2012. His unexpected passing left worldwide ripples considerably larger than his diminutive frame might belie. A man caught in the trap of the semi-successful touring musician, Sly was a devoted family man married to his high school sweetheart, but the No Use for a Name singer-guitarist made no secret of his struggles with addiction and the companion stresses it placed on his domestic situation. Touring with rowdy punk franchises like NUFAN seemed to not help matters much. The tension may have made for good songwriting, but Sly always seemed to be paying the price of trying to keep a foot in both worlds. Time was a cruel mistress. Old age and its companion wearing and tearing left Sly battling the perpetual pain of a herniated disc on his cervical spine, a malady whose treatment regimen of painkillers did not meld well with Sly’s reputation as a heavy drinker.
While band injuries compromised once rampant international touring, the songs kept coming. Sly had pursued slower and quieter fare in recent years, pairing with fellow West Coast punk stalwart Joey Cape of Lagwagon for a pair of acoustic duo records and joining him in the titular Scorpios franchise with Jon Snodgrass. His songwriting gifts proved just as formidable whether backed by a loud, fast band or acoustic and in the wake of his passing, longtime friend and Fat Wreck label head Fat Mike dedicated his efforts to compiling a tribute. NOFX appear on The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute, along with a pantheon of 32 others, each lending a unique take on a track from the Sly canon. As with any of these comps, there is some chaff mixed with the wheat, but there is not an overtly terrible track here, even from historically unremarkable bands. It speaks volumes to the strength of the songwriting.
The versions herein split the difference pretty evenly between faithful takes on the faster material and more dramatic rearrangements. Karina Denike (ex-Dancehall Crashers) kicks the proceedings off with a spartanly beautiful take on “Biggest Lie”, leading a trio of songs featuring their Left Coast contemporaries Mad Caddies and Strung Out. NOFX appear, as you would surmise, as does Bad Religion and Pennywise. The new(er) school also pays homage, in many cases stepping up with some of the best tracks. American Steel tear through “Dark Corner” and Alkaline Trio romp through “Straight from the Jacket” with an atypically ripping lead break from our dear Mr. Skiba.
The best takes here are arguably the two songs originally written by Sly for his daughters. Frank Turner weighs in with a poignant acoustic take on “Keira” and Mike from Rise Against steals the show with his Jon Snodgrass abetted take on “For Fiona”. The song’s closing refrain of “I’m Always Here” stings, but the 33 songs compiled on The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tributecomprise an impressive legacy that is a more than worthy acquisition for the old or new Tony Sly fan.