Tribute albums have always been tricky for me. While there are few things more satisfying than seeing a group of incredible artists collaborating to cover the music of some legendary group from the days of yore, these sort of projects can easily fall flat. The Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help From My Fwends, for example, was a track-for-track tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that made me feel like I’d rather just listen to the Beatles or the Flips separately rather than some unsatisfying marriage of the two.
When I first heard about the forthcoming Day of the Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute album curated by two members of The National, I had mixed feelings. Sure, the thought of an all-star cast including Courtney Barnett and Wilco covering some of my favorite Dead tunes is more exciting to me than an 8th Harry Potter book. Initially, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if the execution could possibly live up to the hype.
If the singles released off Day of the Dead thus far are any indicator, the album will be a huge success. The War On Drugs’ cover of “Touch of Grey” is a prime example of how insanely good a cover can be. It’s not exactly a major innovation on a melodic theme — the new version sounds pretty damn similar to the In the Dark original. The beauty of this song is really in how well Kurt Vile’s voice adapts to Garcia’s lyrics, almost as if the tune were written for The War On Drugs. With a single like this, the rest of the tribute album could be absolute trash and I would be more than okay with it.