Rather than assemble “name” artists who trace their lineage to Big Star, formidable lesser-knowns drive this collection, throwing weight behind the liner notes’ asserted motive to “honor the great bands who were never the superstars of any age.” Of the cult bands par excellence, Big Star weren’t so much innovators as iconoclasts, swimming against the tides of the early ’70s in their unabashed guitar-pop glory. Not surprisingly, the greatest renderings here emerge from groups who attack the tracks with similar intent.
The Red Telephone’s “September Gurls” may be fairly straightforward, but the group goes after it with the zeal of recent converts, whipping it up into a flurry of ringing guitars and wistful desperation. Euphoric leads fuel Scout’s celebratory “Thank You Friends”. The Vestrymen and New York group Longwave go after the art-damaged side of Big Star, plucking the two most haunting tracks, “Kangaroo” and “Holocaust”, from the paranoid sprawl of Sister Lovers and punctuating them with affecting, post-Radiohead storms of guitar noise.
A Tribute To Big Star also features versions of tracks from Chris Bell’s posthumous solo release, the best of which, particularly Whiskeytown alum Mike Daly’s “You And Your Sister” and Paula Kelly’s “Look Up”, underline the frail sweetness at the heart of Bell’s muse. (A sharp contrast to Byronic hero Alex Chilton.)
This might not be the Big Star tribute the multitudes are waiting for — that release, overseen by Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, languishes in a Memphis vault, adrift in label purgatory. In the meantime, this spirited collection by Lower East Side NYC label LunaSea may whet the appetites of the legions of devoted Big Star fans.