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Rhythm & Views

Patti Smith

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Much anticipated among rock-critic cognoscenti, the latest album by punk godmother Patti Smith proves that matching a great singer and a great song doesn't always make for a great recording. Luckily, the combination works maybe half the time.

Covering 12 songs written by others, Smith produced the disc with her longtime band, and they do an excellent job of interpreting the borrowed material. Guitarist Lenny Kaye is especially versatile; after decades of studying every facet of popular music, the guy can play anything with taste and sophistication.

Smith displays her catholic tastes in terms of song choice, and with her candid liner notes, she ably explains her attraction to each cut. But otherwise lovely tunes such as Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," George Harrison's "Within You Without You," Neil Young's "Helpless" and Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" are ill-suited to Smith's voice and performing aesthetic, no matter how much she loves the songs. On those numbers, Smith attempts to sound pretty and tuneful (not unprecedented considering her minor hits "Dancing Barefoot" and "Frederick") while virtually abandoning both her sexy kinetics and righteous rage.

Such is not the case, thankfully, with invigorated covers of the Rolling Stones ("Gimme Shelter"), The Doors ("Soul Kitchen"), Bob Dylan ("Changing of the Guards") and Jefferson Airplane ("White Rabbit"). Most moving, though, are her performances of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (à la bluegrass!) and, most surprisingly, an absolutely gorgeous version of the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider."

Ultimately, on Twelve, the six winners end up being worth the half-dozen clinkers.

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