Patti Smith has always been sentimentally reverent toward her fellow artists, even those you wouldn’t expect. She once performed Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” the epitome of sappy pop, on a children’s TV show (look for it on YouTube) and totally transformed it without really changing anything.
Except for Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” the songs on “Twelve” are accepted rock masterpieces. Seven were written before Smith herself became a star, and the more intense her fan-feelings, the more straightforward the version. Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” and the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” benefit from her band’s stripped-down arrangements but not necessarily from Smith’s Dylan-like reading, while the one Dylan song, “Changing of the Guards,” impresses the most with its uninflected vocals. “Soul Kitchen” is surprisingly mellow given Jim Morrison’s influence on Smith’s usually histrionic performance style and, in fact, the most notable thing about the album may be its restraint. Do we need a slow bluegrass version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit?” Probably not, but you’re reminded anew what an amazing song it is, and how malleable great music is in the hands of someone who has earned the intensity of respect she affords to others.