Album Review

Various Artists - Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson

This nuanced, lively project serves as a fine tribute to Anderson, and, for the uninitiated, a compelling introduction to his catalog.

Various Artists - Something Borrowed Something New: A Tribute To John Anderson

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To country music, John Anderson’s legacy is like air: Omnipresent and quietly elemental.

He’s the kind of artist that you know, even if you don’t think you know him -- songs like ‘Wild and Blue’, ‘Swingin’, ‘Seminole Wind’ and ‘Straight Tequila Night’ dominated the country charts throughout the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. They’ve stood the test of time as well; if you keep your dial turned to country radio on a long road trip today, you’re still more than likely to hear those songs.

But Anderson is far more than a hitmaker: His solid-as-hickory songwriting style has been aspirational for artists across Americana, bluegrass, folk and rock, as well as those following a more mainstream country path. As cover choices, his songs are uniquely flexible: they easily lend themselves to others’ interpretations, while still remaining faithful to the spirit of the original. On Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson, a robust and wide-ranging cast of stars prove just that.

Opening with John Prine’s superb take on ‘1959’, Anderson’s bittersweet tale of two young lovers that have been torn apart by the rough waters of time runs strong in the memory of the narrator and listener. It’s exactly the kind of story that would be at home on one of Prine’s own albums, his wistfully nostalgic take compelling for fans still feeling the sting of Prine’s death in 2020.

“Baby, I’m yours, I’ll love you always / I’m gonna stand by you until the end of time,” Prine sings with his signature rough-hewn delivery. As any good artist should, Prine places his stamp on the track, drawing out new emotions and inflections while demonstrating a fond reverence for the original.

Each participating artist continues to strike that balance in his or her own way. Brent Cobb lends his hazy, bluesy signature to ‘Wild and Blue’, reconfiguring the song as a lilting Americana sing-along. Sierra Ferrell applies jangly bluegrass to ‘Years’, the title track from Anderson’s 2020 record, proving that his knack for meaty and versatile songwriting hasn’t waned over time.

Tyler Childers brings his bristle and twang to ‘Shoot Low Sheriff’, while Del McCoury draws out the plaintive sweetness in ‘Would You Catch a Falling Star’. While these Indie darlings, bluegrass legends and revered singer-songwriters appear, so do some of the biggest mainstream country superstars: Eric Church, Luke Combs, Ashley McBryde and Brothers Osborne all paying tribute to Anderson by cutting a number.

Ashley McBryde effortlessly handles ‘Straight Tequila Night’. injecting her faithful cover track with her brooding, crystalline vocal, while Brothers Osborne’s take on ‘You Can’t Judge a Book (By the Cover)’ taps into the duo’s trademark rollicking jams and epic guitar work. Church’s version of ‘Mississippi Moon’ encapsulates the free-wheeling rock ‘n’ roll fans know and love from his own records, while Combs’ ‘Seminole Wind’ - an album standout - adds burning emotional depth to the song’s lyrics with his burly, full-throated voice.

Though each of these marquee artists lends their signature sound to their Anderson tribute performance, at no point does the song feel overwhelmed by the performer’s own stardom. Combs’ “Seminole Wind” may stand out on the album because of the strength of his barrel-chested voice, but, if anything, his rendition underscores Anderson’s legacy without eclipsing it.

It’s mainly due to some stellar song matchmaking by producer Dan Auerbach and his partner in the project, David “Fergie” Ferguson. Each artist was selected for the way their musicality overlaps with Anderson’s; as a whole, the diversity of the project is a tribute to his dynamic artistry.

Auerbach and Ferguson make Something Borrowed, Something New feel like a cohesive album by bringing each performer in to record their part in person; there was no mailing in songs for the record. Not only does that approach keep the project cohesive in sound, but it also lends extra weight to the “tribute” part of this tribute album: It feels like each act is stopping by to pay his or her respects.

This nuanced, lively project serves as a fine tribute to Anderson, and, for the uninitiated, a compelling introduction to his catalog. But perhaps the greatest tribute to Anderson, and to his songs, is that songs from every decade of his career remain vibrant to a contemporary audience, and flourish in the hands of a wide variety of other performers.

His songs aren’t historical artefacts; they’re living, breathing things with a powerful presence in the country music of today.

9.0 / 10.

Something Borrowed Something New: A Tribute To John Anderson is out now via Easy Eye Sound. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below.

Various Artists - Something Borrowed Something New: A Tribute To John Anderson

Easy Eye | 2022

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