The second I hit play on Through the Wilderness, a Madonna tribute CD, I was mad at it. It starts off sounding like an Allman Brothers album, and though I love the Allman Brothers, and the first track, a Jonathan Wilson rendition, has some pretty chord changes, La Isla Bonita was not meant to sound long-form jam-band style with tambourines. Tambourines! I have to admit, I was instantly ready for hating.
But soon came the Golden Animals’ “Beautiful Stranger Blues,” which is fun and ho-down appropriate—truly the band’s own incarnation—and a lovelier-than-the-original “Live to Tell” (loveliness, after all, is hardly Madonna’s strong point) by the Winter Flowers. “Hung Up” (the Tyde) and “Oh Father” (Giant Drag) are pretty good, and Alexandra Hope’s acoustic “Lucky Star” is something you’d put on a lovey mixed CD, an improvement over the Material Girl’s version.
Still. Though some of these interpretations are interesting or even really likeable, on the whole the collection lacks a quality and cohesiveness, which means I wouldn’t want to listen all the way through it again. After all, people listen to Madonna because her pop is fun, not for her stunning lyrics or compositions, and that fun isn’t overall adequately captured or re-created here. The album is a charitable endeavor—25 percent of profits go to raisingmalawi.org—but if you really want to support the cause, I’d suggest donating straight to the website.