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The Missing Link: Eddie Angel provides Wray of hope for the tribute album

By the end of the 20th century, the tribute album had its once good name beaten to death, or pretty close to it.

Heartfelt homage of one artist acknowledging a debt to or deftly tackling a worthy catalog of another (see: George JonesMy Favorites of Hank Williams, Buck Owens Sings Harlan Howard, countless Frank Sinatra tribute albums and many more) gave way to a deluge of alleged all-star compilations that (dis)honored superstars, cult figures and just about everyone in between.

These should have and could have been brilliant, with the right producer selecting relevant acts and material. What happened instead became a mish-mash of mostly uninspired leftovers, rushed covers and worthless performances.

A few succeeded as a whole, but the success rate on these misguided releases for the most part was three or four decent cuts — if you were lucky. And then the one band that prompted you to buy a given lame tribute CD would eventually re-release its contribution on its own B-sides compilation.

In the mainstream, things have been pretty quiet on the tribute front(discounting Rod Stewart‘s standard moneygrabs). But, as usual, there is hope below said mainstream’s surface.
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Eddie Angel has done the seemingly impossible — make the tribute album relevant again. Los Straitjackets‘ masked master of the Fender bender honors the late, great Link Wray on his new album. It is simply called Eddie Angel Plays Link Wray (Spinout Records).

The Straitjackets are into their second decade of instrumental rock so varied that to call them a surf band would be missing the point. This proficiency led them to be invited on several tours with Wray when his revival was at its post-Pulp Fiction peak of popularity.

Wray, of course, is immortalized for the first use of feedback in rock ‘n’ roll on the pulverizing classic “Rumble.” Prior to his death last year at 75, he still was turning in top performances. There is no version of “Rumble” on Eddie Angel Plays . . . — a wise choice, as there are plenty of covers elsewhere of that one to choose from. And Wray’s second-biggest hit, “Run Chicken Run,” also is wisely left off, as the Straitjackets previously had reworked it into their own Wray homage, “Itchy Chicken.”

There are Wray-worthy rumblings on remakes of “Deuces Wild,” “Ace of Spades” and “Comanche.” But in between feedback freakouts, Angel makes sure to honor Wray’s lesser-known sides — spaghetti western twangfests (“The Outlaw,” “The Swag”), lilting sleepwalks (“Hungry” and “Lillian”) and a revved-up reading of the Batman theme. If that’s not enough variety, there also is “Rumble Mambo,” with a guest turn on saxophone from another straight-A student of guitar history, Deke Dickerson.

Angel is backed by the Pete Curry Orchestra, which turns out to just be Curry, the bassist for Los Straitjackets, on everything else.

Maybe it’s Wray himself who makes for a good tribute album. The 2003 release Guitar Ace, the MuSick Records label’s tribute to Wray, succeeded as a whole entity with the Fleshtones, Boss Martians, Woggles and two dozen others blasting through not only Wray’s instrumental classics but the fire and brimstone country feedback of his 1970s vocal albums (which included an obligatory remake of Rumble for every new label he jumped to).

But the bottom line is Angel has succeeded wildly in keeping the spotlight on an innovator and amazing artist as futile entities like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame turn attention to dreck from the 1980s. And he has shown that heart and true inspiration can add up to a proper and worthy tribute album.

— By Joe Belock

* Shakin’ Street is an occasional column by staff writer at large Joe Belock, the host of the Three Chord Monte radio show on free-form WFMU-FM in New Jersey.