Throughout the 80s, The Replacements were one of the bands most responsible for what would become known as alternative music. They took elements of punk, rock, folk and anything else that tickled their fancy, and made something exciting and raw, that still had its basis in melody and solid song writing. They broke up in 1991and went their separate ways. But a few years ago, when original guitarist Slim Dunlap suffered a stroke, the band got back together to record an EP, raising money to help cover Dunlap’s medical bills. That five track EP turned into a series of vinyl singles, recorded by dozens of other bands and performers. Dozens of tributes collected as Songs for Slim: Rockin Here Tonight.
As much as I know I should, I haven’t listened to nearly enough of The Replacements to be familiar with all of this track listing. And I’m nowhere near cool enough to recognise all of the names of the people and bands who contributed to it. But the the Replacements’ songs I do know, and the people and band names I do recognise, are more than enough to make pretty sure I’m in for something good with this compilation.
Steve Earle is the kind of dude who I have to think had an influence on the song writing of Paul Westerberg, Dunlap and the rest of The Replacements. So to hear him paying tribute a generation that came after, is pretty cool. And his take on Times Like This is what a cover song should be. It takes the bare bones of the original, but also makes sure it has plenty of Earl spin on it.
Of all the contributors here, I can think of no one who better took the mantle of The Replacements’ talent for turning mid-western mundanity into great rock and roll, than Craig Finn (The Hold Steady). So seeing his name on the track listing made Isn’t I? one of the songs I anticipated most. Finn has one of the most unique vocal deliveries in modern rock, so trying to make that fit a song written by someone else can’t be easy. It works here so well, purely because of that unique Finn sound.
Songs like Rockin’ Here Tonight (covered by The Minus 5) and Cozy (covered by Tim O’Reagan) are either testaments to how great these performers are, or testaments to how great the original songs are. I’m not familiar with either, but these versions are great guitar pop/rock songs.
While I may not know the original version of Ain’t No Fare in a Rock n’ Roll Love Affair, I have to assume it doesn’t have the country, lo-fi bluegrass feel provided here by Jacob Dylan. But like Finn and Earl putting their personal spins on things, Dylan’s country rasp makes for a really cool sound here.
A contemporary of The Replacements, Frank Black (Pixies) brings a screamed passion and a ZZ Top approach to guitar blues on The King & Queen that just doesn’t work for me. It sounds like the result of a beloved and revered musician being surrounded by sycophantic yes men who would never dream of letting him know that his cover is just a bit shit.
But that’s OK, ‘coz it’s immediately followed by some greasy, smelly rock and roll, delivered by Australia’s premier greasy, smelly rock and rollers, You Am I, on Ain’t Exactly Good. And as kick ass it is, it’s nothing compared to what comes next. One of the holy trinity of song writing that gets mention way too often around Bored and Dangerous. Which of course means I’m talking about one of the Drive-By Truckers. And in this case, it’s Patterson Hood, taking on The Replacements’ Hate This Town. This is Hood at his back woods Alabama best. Guitar, piano, bass and drums, all topped off by his southern drawl.
More proof that a great cover is equal parts the original song and the coverer bringing their own aesthetic to it, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) brings his patented melancholy to The Ballad of the Opening Band and the results is a glorious bummer. Which I really do mean as a compliment.
I’d have to assume that for fans of The Replacements, a record like Songs for Slim: Rockin Here Tonight would inspire two reactions. Either anger that this random collection of pretenders would think they have any right to play these songs. Or joy that these songs they already love received these just as loving tributes from some of modern music’s most respected artists. For me, with a casual at best history with The Replacements, and limited knowledge of most of the artists performing here, I loved almost every second of it. It made more interested in The Replacements and more interested in the people providing these generally great covers.