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Stare decisis has crept up on the music industry. The adherence to old precedents is evident in several recent records, including tributes to three of the most respected songwriters in rock and roll: Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and John Hiatt. By now it’s pretty well understood that most folks misunderstood Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” when it became an inescapable, flag-waving hit in 1984. Springsteen actually has a gritty, rough-hewn view of life in America, which was unmistakable on earlier records including “Nebraska,” a 1982 solo acoustic disc with zero radio potential. “Nebraska” returns on “Badlands, A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska” (SubPop), a perfectly executed appreciation featuring Los Lobos, Johnny Cash, the Pretenders’ Chryssie Hynde, and others. Nearly every track puts Springsteen and his interpreter in a positive light, including Hank Williams III’s honky-tonk turn on “Atlantic City.” But to these ears, Hynde and the other female artists turn in the most stirring interpretations of Springsteen’s seemingly male-centric tracks. Most notable is folkie Dar Williams’ quiet desperation on the magnificent “Highway Patrolman,” although Aimee Mann, alterna-folkie Ani DeFranco, and country singer Deana Carter offer stellar performances. Three tunes The Boss recorded at the “Nebraska” sessions but released later also get reworked, including “Downbound Train,” featuring the soulful voice of the Mavericks’ Raul Malo. The weirdest moment by far comes when Cash leans into the mike with his craggly monotone and observes: “I’m on fire.” Some of the proceeds from sales of the disc go to Doctors Without Borders. Meanwhile, Young is the subject of an entirely different kind of tribute. “Gettin’ High on Neil Young” (CMH) repackages one in an odd but apparently unstoppable series of bluegrass takes on hits by the Fab Four, Aerosmith, Springsteen, and others. Guitarist David West leads the charge of fine but apparently underemployed musicians, including veteran folkies, jazz players, and blues harmonica player Tom Ball. The boys offer clean, creative, and very listenable bluegrass versions of familiar material. Some tunes, such as “Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere,” lend themselves easily to the format, while the anger that breathes life into “Ohio” or “Southern Man” is of course MIA. While it is an undeniably pleasant CD, the listening experience veers too close to that of finding yourself in the dairy aisle, realizing that the corporate overlords have neutered one of your favorites for Muzak purposes. John Hiatt is a songwriter’s songwriter, as is proven by just a short list of artists who’ve covered his tunes. The best known is Bonnie Raitt for the mega-hit “Thing Called Love,” but others range from Bob Dylan to Paula Abdul and Suzy Bogguss to Iggy Pop. Another hint that Hiatt has something special to say is that this summer’s “Rollin’ Into Memphis” (Telarc) is the second all-star tribute to his work, following 1993′s “Love Get Strange,” which featured Nick Lowe, Emmylou Harris, and the Neville Brothers. The reason folks keep coming back is Hiatt’s forthright and funny way with words and rhymes, and his reliance on sturdy rock and roots styles. The new one spotlights New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas, bluesman Kenny Neal, and folk legend Odetta, among others. “Rollin’ Into Memphis” is a very solid collection, although it doesn’t have the same sense of being woven from a single fabric as “Badlands.” Philadelphia folkie Cliff Eberhardt brings a lot of passion to “Back of My Mind,” and Patty Larkin weighs in with a lovely “Have a Little Faith in Me.” Though the zydeco beat is so infectious that a version of the Code of Civil Procedure would probably inspire folks to dance, accordionist and son of a legend C.J. Chenier was wise to take on Hiatt’s happy-go-lucky “Falling Up.”

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