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Various Artists

Real: The Tom T. Hall Project – 1998 (Sire)

Reviewed by Joel Bernstein

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This album has been in the can for quite a while. Johnny Cash's opening "I Washed My Face In The Morning Dew" was recorded in mid-1995, and the newest recording here is Kelly Willis' "That's How I Got To Memphis" from early 1997. The set is too musically erratic to have a real market. Nor is it particularly effective as an introduction to Tom T. Hall as a songwriter, since it covers too limited a scope of his work.

The album does have its moments, of course. Cash and Willis are fine. Bluegrass fan Hall undoubtedly loves the Ralph Stanley take on "The Water Lily." Whiskeytown and The Mary Janes provide solid work. Some other artists stray into power pop or Gothic dirges and often seem more interested in their own sound than in Hall's lyrics. Syd Straw's punkish "Harper Valley P.T.A.," with the last line changed to something Hall would never write, is particularly jarring.

With a few exceptions, the album covers really obscure Hall songs. There are none of his gooey ballads, which is no loss. There is a minimum of his biting social commentary and too little of his wry humor. A more proper tribute to Hall would be for you to buy one of his own albums.