Metallica on banjos: A tribute to oddity

Headbanger-hick musical salute just the latest in strange fusions

Pop Music

October 19, 2003|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Pop quiz: Which of the following tribute album titles is for real?

A. Come Together: An a Cappella Tribute to the Beatles

B. The Reggae Tribute to Pink Floyd

C. Kiss My Grass: A Hillbilly Tribute to KISS

D. The String Quartet Tribute to the White Stripes

Try E - all of the above.

This past week, the mind-boggling array of existing tribute albums was joined by a dozen new ones, saluting musicians from blues great Robert Johnson and rock heroes the Eagles to such up-to-the minute forces as the Matrix songwriting-production team and alt-rock band Evanescence.

The lengths to which creators of these salutes will go to be noticed amid the densely populated field seems to know no bounds, as evidenced by another project that hit stores this week: Fade to Bluegrass: The Bluegrass Tribute to Metallica.

"Our whole thinking is red-hot bluegrass renditions of songs that were not a likely match," says David Haerle, president of Los Angeles-based bluegrass label CMH Records, which has released 60 to 70 bluegrass tributes to performers from the Beatles and the Eagles to U2 and Led Zeppelin over the past decade.

"At first look, you might think it's a novelty or tongue-in-cheek thing, but when you hear the way the songs are performed, it sounds like they really could have come out of the Appalachians."

Retailers say only a small percentage of the releases stand any chance of getting noticed by the public. The most likely are those such as Just Because I'm a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton, a multi-artist salute with star power courtesy of such participants as Norah Jones, Shania Twain, Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris.

"I'm shocked at how many come out each week," says Bob Feterl, Tower Records' Southwest region manager. "Most get totally lost."

So why bother, when the majority will sell no more than a few thousand copies each?

Smaller independent labels can break even or turn a small profit even at those numbers if they don't have big-name musicians to pay. And once in a while, one of these projects clicks in a bigger way.

But who, you may ask, is dying to hear Metallica with banjos?

"It's mostly for hard-core fans of Metallica who want to experience this music in a new way," says Aretha Sills, CMH's project coordinator on album.

Somehow, "hard-core" doesn't seem like a strong enough word.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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