Released Oct. 29th on Fat Wreck Chords
When I wrote about Tony Sly’s death last August, the punk scene (both bands and fans) was very much in shock at his sudden and unexpected passing. A year later, many of his labelmates, peers, and friends have come together to pay tribute to him on The Songs of Tony Sly, proceeds from which will go to his wife and two young daughters. The compilation is pretty arresting, with many of the artists putting their own spin on songs from both the No Use for a Name catalog and Sly’s solo work. The roster of artists on this thing shows how much influence Sly had across the punk community, and their reinterpretations illustrate the strong songwriting and lyricism that ran through his music.
One thing that surprised me about this album was how many of the artists chose songs from later in Sly’s career. I’d expected a bunch of old No Use songs, but many of the covers here are of later ones, and ones from his solo albums that came out in the last few years. This shows that, long after the heyday of ’90s punk, his music was still affecting people. For the most part the groups on here are the ones who came up along with Sly and NUFAN in the ’90s, including many of his Fat Wreck Cords labelmates: Strung Out, Mad Caddies, Lagwagon, NOFX, Swingin’ Utters, Frenzal Rhomb, and Anti-Flag are all expected names on the tracklist, while Pennywise, Bad Religion, Alkaline Trio, and the Bouncing Souls make perfect sense too. Then there are acts like Old Man Markley, Teenage Bottlerocket, and Get Dead who joined the Fat Wreck family in more recent years and were undoubtedly influenced by those earlier groups including NUFAN.
Some of the most moving tracks on here are the ones featuring Sly’s close friends and collaborators. Dance Hall Crashers’ Karina Denike, who sang on “On the Outside” from 1997’s Making Friends and “This Is a Rebel Song” from 2002’s Hard Rock Bottom, transforms the punk blast “Biggest Lie” into a stripped-down number featuring little more than her voice, backed by haunting coos. NOFX turns the acoustic lament of “The Shortest Pier” into a charging rocker, Fat Mike expressing his grief at losing Sly in his own way. A real standout is Lagwagon’s Joey Cape, who was one of Sly’s close friends and collaborated with him on acoustic split albums, tours, and in their indie-rock side project Scorpios. He turns up twice here, once with Lagwagon doing “Discomfort Inn” (you can really tell how important it was to Cape to nail the vocal on this song) and again with the remaining Scorpios on a weeping acoustic rendition of “International You Day” that finishes out the album proper with a recording of fans chanting “Tony! Tony!” Fellow Scorpio Jon Snodgrass (also of Armchair Martian) also makes multiple appearances, dueting with Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath on an acoustic rendition of “For Fiona” and doing his own countrified take on “On the Outside” with his band the Dead Peasants.
Other standouts are the tracks where the artists throw a stylistic curveball. Mad Caddies put a reggae/rocksteady spin on “AM”, while Snuff transform “”On the Outside” into a Latin salsa/flamenco number. Old Man Markley’s punk-meets-bluegrass style is used to excellent effect on “The Feel Good Song of the Year”, with wonderful banjo plucking and multi-part harmonies. Alkaline Trio give “Straight from the Jacket” the Damnesia treatment by busting out the acoustics, but leading the affair with a powerful electric guitar line. Swingin’ Utters turn in a rootsy folk rendition of “Not Your Savior”, while Simple Plan (yes, apparently they’re still a band) strip back the fast hardcore of “Justified Black Eye” to get to its sweet, melodic center in a cover built around a simple ukulele. In all these cases the artists take some great stylistic liberties with the songs, but all to winning effect.
There’s not a weak track on this disc, and it really illustrates the impact Tony Sly had on many of the artists he shared labels, stages, and scenes with. It’s sobering to think that all our favorite artists from our youths will one day pass away, but when they inevitably do they’d be lucky to receive a tribute as moving as this one.