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Big Star Small World

Big Star Small World

Big Star, more than any other band, was responsible for perfecting the template that power-pop aficionados have been using for decades. The creamy harmonies, the sharp guitar hooks, and the starry-eyed tales rolled out by Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, and Jody Stephens have seldom been


Big Star, more than any other band, was responsible for perfecting the template that power-pop aficionados have been using for decades. The creamy harmonies, the sharp guitar hooks, and the starry-eyed tales rolled out by Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, and Jody Stephens have seldom been surpassed in the years since Big Star's supernova flame-out -- but on this tribute disc, a passel of acolytes do a mighty fine job of replicating the trio's magic. Big Star Small World was initially slated for release way back in 1999 -- which helps explain the absence of new blood -- but the time on the shelf hasn't dulled its charms. The best of the contributions come from acts striving to capture the crystalline purity of Big Star's most yearning material, as Teenage Fanclub do on a spangled "Jesus Christ." TFC rank among what one might call "the usual suspects" in this lineup -- as do the Posies, whose leaders actually joined forces with Chilton and Stephens to form a latter-day Big Star. Their version of "What's Going On?" is one of the disc's more poignant moments, but it's even more intriguing to hear the interpretations of folks who haven't absorbed the gospel according to Alex from beginning to end. Kelly Willis's romp through "When My Baby's Beside Me" is one of the standouts from that category, as is "Nightime," which the Afghan Whigs spool out in suitably dislocated fashion. There's nothing here that'll make listeners forget the original performances, but plenty to reaffirm what made 'em so engaging in the first place.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Mark Deming
During their all too short lifespan, Big Star were a brilliant band who could not catch a break (their influence is still wildly out of proportion with the size of their audience), and for years this tribute album didn't seem destined for a brighter fate than the group who inspired it. Compiled by an independent label called Ignition Records with the participation of original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, Big Star Small World was scheduled for release in the spring of 1998, but Ignition went under before the album ever made it way into stores, and the project sat in limbo until Koch Records obtained the rights to the tapes in 2006. As a result, Big Star Small World features tracks from three bands who no longer exist (the Afghan Whigs, Whiskeytown, and Idle Wilds), while two others have managed to split up and reunite during the eight-year waiting period (the Posies and the Gin Blossoms). One can be excused for wishing that after such a long gestation Big Star Small World would be some sort of landmark in the land of the tribute album, but that isn't quite the case. While pretty much everyone onboard sounds pleased as punch to be paying homage to Alex Chilton and his partners in power pop, too many of the performances on Big Star Small World sound like slavish covers of the original recordings (especially Juliana Hatfield's "Don't Lie to Me," the Gin Blossoms' "Back of a Car," and "The Ballad of El Goodo" from Matthew Sweet). The best tracks tend to be the ones that put a new spin on the songs, such as the Afghan Whigs' ominous stroll through "Nighttime," Teenage Fanclub's sprightly and Byrds-ian take on "Jesus Christ," and a cover of "What's Goin' Ahn" from the Posies that suggests they remembered well the lessons on Frosting on the Beater. And while neither Kelly Willis nor Wilco add anything especially unusual on their contributions, they get over on the strength of their delivery, with Willis' gorgeous country pipes buoying "When My Baby's Beside Me," while Jeff Tweedy is all glorious wonder and confusion as he sings "Thirteen." Big Star Small World's anti-climax comes with what was supposed to be its most important moment -- Big Star cut a new song for this, their first studio material since their 1993 live reunion, but "Hot Thing" is an uninspired R&B pastiche that has little in common with the pop genius of the group's salad days. There's just enough good stuff on Big Star Small World to justify its belated release, but not enough to make it essential to anyone besides obsessive fans of either Big Star or the artists included.

Product Details

Release Date:
Koch Records

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Kelly Willis   Guitar,Vocals
Scott Johnson   Guitar
Alex Chilton   Guitar,Vocals
Matthew Sweet   Guitar,Vocals
Chris Stamey   Bass
Memphis Horns   Group
Juliana Hatfield   Bass,Guitar,Vocals
Todd Phillips   Drums
Jon Auer   Guitar,Vocals,Background Vocals
Jay Bennett   Piano
Greg Dulli   Guitar,Vocals
Jon Dee Graham   Guitar,Lap Steel Guitar
Wayne Jackson   Trombone,Trumpet
Mike Leahy   Guitar,Background Vocals
Greg Leisz   Guitar,Pedal Steel Guitar
Andrew Love   Saxophone
Tony Maimone   Bass
Raymond McGinley   Guitar
Ron Pangborn   Drums
Jody Stephens   Drums,Background Vocals
Ken Stringfellow   Bass,Guitar,Vocals,Background Vocals
Jeff Tweedy   Guitar,Vocals
Brian Young   Drums
Phillip Rhodes   Percussion,Drums
Jesse Valenzuela   Guitar,Background Vocals
Paul Demyun   Guitar
Bill Leen   Bass
Erich Drew Luening   Background Vocals
Adam McLaughlin   Guitar,Vocals
Dave Boquist   Banjo,Guitar
Rick Steff   Piano
Jessy Greene   Violin
Derek DiCenzo   Hammond Organ
Joe Skyward   Track Performer
Phil Wandscher   Guitar,Background Vocals
Dave Woodman   Bass
Ryan Adams   Guitar,Vocals
Caitlin Cary   Violin,Background Vocals
Doug Wolfe   Drums
Todd Philips   Drums
Norman Blake   Guitar,Vocals

Technical Credits

Alex Chilton   Producer
Duncan Cameron   Engineer
Keith Cleversley   Producer,Engineer
Paul DuGre   Engineer
Greg Dulli   Producer
John Hampton   Producer,Engineer
Jeff Powell   Producer,Engineer
Mike Scotella   Engineer
Jody Stephens   Producer,Executive Producer
Skidd Mills   Producer,Engineer
Dave Cook   Engineer
Lamar Sorrento   Cover Art
Rob Strong   Engineer
Tony Margherita   Management

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