Here’s that rarity, a well-made tribute album. The last few years have brought a spate of overstuffed, cast-of-superstar tributes that usually embalm their honorees’ spirit, but Not Fade Away manages to rekindle the flame in Buddy Holly’s soul. Holly, of course, was one of rock and roll’s early geniuses, a Texas adolescent who hurled out dozens of songs and an outsize proportion of classics—”Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “It’s So Easy,” “Everyday”—before a plane crash killed him at 22. If not for Holly and his band the Crickets, Paul McCartney has said, there would have been no Beatles.
Paul is not here (too busy retooling his own past?) but no matter: a multigenerational, multigenre crew from country-rock youngster Todd Snider to 58-year-old Waylon Jennings does Holly proud. Nanci Griffith sounds newly tough and matter-of-fact on “Well All Right”; the Band weighs in, with drummer-singer Levon Helm’s wonderful Arkansas twang and Bo Diddley beat fueling “Not Fade Away”; and Marty Stuart and Steve Earle bang out a hell-bent version of “Crying, Waiting, Hoping.” Waylon Jennings was Buddy Holly’s friend and sideman, and his inclusion (like that of original Crickets Joe Mauldin and Jerry Allison, who chime in on selected tracks) not only adds class to this listenable salute; ol’ Waylon’s forlorn reading of “Learning the Game” is the album’s best song. (Decca)