by Randy Lewis
Beyond the many individual inspired renditions of Eagles songs delivered Saturday at the Americana Music Assn.’s tribute to Glenn Frey, perhaps the biggest service the assemblage served up was the opportunity to hear those songs with fresh ears.
Divorced this evening from the original recordings that have been played endlessly over the last 40 years, the quality of the songwriting at the heart of the band’s phenomenal success emerged in sharper relief in the hands and voices of Bonnie Raitt, Eagles/Frey collaborator Jack Tempchin, Lee Ann Womack, the Civil Wars’ John Paul White, Brandi Carlile, Jack Ingram and the rest of more than two dozen participants.
For more than two hours at the Troubadour, during the Americana group’s annual pre-Grammy Awards concert, at least two generations of musicians paid homage to Frey and the band that he and Don Henley formed out of the fertile country-folk-rock scene centered at the venerable West Hollywood club in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Once the Eagles’ music became omnipresent on pop radio in the ‘70s, and because it continues to be revisited steadily on classic-rock outlets, it became fashionable in some quarters to pillory the band and its deep trove of exquisitely crafted songs.
Most of those were written by Frey and Henley, but the show also highlighted notable contributions from bandmates Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh as well as collaborators including Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther and Jack Tempchin.
Particularly among punk, post-punk, grunge, indie rock, roots rock and even some country musicians, the Eagles’ meticulous songcraft, arrangements and recordings have been targets of criticism for a perceived lack of edge, raw passion or emotional abandon.
But it’s a bit like griping that the Notre Dame Cathedral is somehow unsatisfying because it lacks the primitive beauty of a log cabin.
“I’m sick of people [dumping] on the Eagles,” singer-songwriter White, formerly of the Civil Wars alt-country duo, said after the show. “I tell people, ‘We all owe a debt to them. Every one of us is trying to write songs today because of what they did.”But wait, there's more!