By Donald Teplyske
I’m not sure when tribute albums started being made, but the first Americana/roots tribute album I remember was Folkways: A Vision Shared. Undoubtedly there were other projects before that 1988 disc honoring Woody Guthrie and Huddie Ledbetter, but that was the initial tribute I recall, and it set the course for what I believe such a disc should achieve: shed fresh light on important music.
Since then we have had about four thousand six hundred and twenty-seven tributes released. Some have been absolutely masterful (This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark, Mark Erelli’s Milltowns, and Unsung Hero: A Tribute to the Music of Ron Davies, to suggest but three fairly recent ones) many have been enjoyable, and I know tons have been awful (but enough about Skynyrd Frynds and Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Mötley Crüe.) I’ve experienced more of the first than that final group, thank goodness, and as a result have collected well over a hundred tributes on my shelves.
For me the difference between a stunning tribute and a passable one is the difference between Tulare Dust: A Songwriters’ Tribute to Merle Haggard and Mama’s Hungry Eyes: A Tribute to Merle Haggard—both have something to offer, but only one gets played annually twenty years after its release.
I enjoy tribute albums. New interpretations of well-beloved songs are always appreciated. Favored performers can introduce to me someone they admire through a well-placed song on a tribute disc. By far my favorite type of tribute album is when I am exposed to new artists performing songs I’ve never before heard, but which tangibly mean something to the performer.
For me, Just Love doesn’t fit neatly into any of those mentioned in the previous paragraph, but depending on your familiarity with Audrey Auld-Mezera and those friends and admirers who have gathered to pay homage to her, one of the descriptions may be apt.
Audrey Auld was a singer-songwriter whose career I followed from a distance, largely because of the support she received from an area radio host who regularly played her music. Over time, I purchased a handful of Auld’s eleven albums enjoying each and every moment. While she did perform within the extended traveling area, I never took the opportunity to catch her live, and that is a regret.
Audrey Auld-Mezera was a Australian-Tasmanian roots artist of renown within limited circles, but for the wider roots world she was never prominent. She was based in the United States for much of her career, and wrote some absolutely incredible songs that too few heard. For me, her Lost Men and Angry Girls, Come Find Me, Tonk, and Texas albums are essential listening. Auld-Mezera died in 2015, suffering from cancer.
Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mezera is a labor of devotion for Nancy Apple, the driving force behind the project. Within the album’s liner notes (the full version of which I did not have access to for this review) Apple writes that Auld-Mezera was, “the greatest star Nashville never heard…[her illness and death] hit a lot of us real hard, so we made this record to show our love. Audrey knew a lot about love. She lived it. She shared it.”
The regard the contributing performers have for Auld-Mezera is apparent. While the majority of them may be unfamiliar (they were to me) their devotion to Auld-Mezera’s songs comes through quite readily. As the material is also likely to be unfamiliar to many of those who take the opportunity to purchase the two-disc set, there is the potential for double riches: discovering new songs and performers simultaneously. Never a bad thing.
Some of Auld-Mezera’s finest songs are included, although personal favorites including “Support Group,” “Your Wife,” and “Poverty Line” are overlooked. “Forty,” in which Candace Maché and Apple sing of being “half way home” at that age is impactful, given the challenges Auld-Mezera would face after making the declaration that “the good die young, and here’s the proof, I’m forty.” One of her great early songs, “I’d Leave Me Too” is honky-tonked by roots warrior Ronny Elliott, who sticks close to the song’s original arrangement.
Joel Rafael, one of several artists featured closely associated with the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival (at which Auld-Mezera made multiple appearances) in Okemah, OK, delivers a ragged-but-right rendition of “Shine,” while Doug Jayne leads what I’m certain live would be a sing-a-long, “Woody.”
Andrew Hardin is tasked with carrying Auld-Mezera’s (arguably) greatest composition, “Bread and Roses.” The guitarist does the songwriter proud, delivering her lines with conviction and warmth. “If I Woke Up Dead,” credited to The Foggy Mountain Jam Band, features Bill Chambers, Kasey Chambers, and others singing the words from which Apple quoted in her notes, “If I woke up dead this morning, it could really change my life/I could quit trying to be someone everybody likes…I could be the greatest star Nashville never heard.”
To close each disc, Sky Shook and Susan Herndon deliver very different readings of “Just Love,” a song from Come Find Me, and their approaches nicely bookend the collection: Shook (another artist I had not before encountered) a bit rough and tumble, Herndon smoother but no less indisputable.
Audrey Auld-Mezera makes a final appearance, leading off the second disc with “Missin’ Mez,” a number co-written with her husband. Ostensibly singing from the road, Auld-Mezera delivers a love song of devotion and distance joined by notables including Gabe Rhodes, Carrie Rodriguez, and Bill Chambers.
Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mezera is a wonderful collection of music. If you don’t know the songs of Audrey Auld-Mezera, this set of music unfolds like an astonishing new set of Americana songs that you can’t believe you haven’t previously heard. If you do know Auld-Mezera, it is a reminder that there are a whole lot of other folks, like you, who appreciated each and every note she wrote, sang, and played.