12 February, 2008

Young and Idealistic

The music of Neil Young has never alienated me: not when he was in Buffalo Springfield; not in Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; and no time yet during his solo career. Of course, I haven't enjoyed every song that he has ever made. Young's catalog is a little large for me to claim to be an avid fan of everything, but I do believe that Young is an excellent songwriter - probably one of the best around - and I know that with understated grace he can turn a phrase, wrap his unusual voice around a melody, and acoustically reach your heart and soul.

I wasn't surprised to learn that Young's music was being covered by female artists to raise money for breast cancer, despite the fact that the man himself has no breasts (as far as I know). On the extremely self explanatory album entitled Cinnamon Girl - Women Artists Cover Neil Young For Charity, country music stars and riot grrrls unite to sing the heart out of some intense tunes. On "Heart of Gold" indie queen Tanya Donelly makes the edges a little softer, but keeps the form the same. The incorrigible harmonica line marches along when Tanya's voice is resting, and shadows the Young original. "Comes A Time" performed by Kate York takes on a more meandering air with a little less Southern string sound. It sounds more Seattle coffee-shop, than Alabama whiskey bar. I had a difficult time listening to "The Needle and the Damage Done" because I think it's one of those songs that cannot be improved. Lori Mckenna doesn't ruin this Young classic, in fact, she performs it so well that I really have no quibbles except for the fact that it isn't the original.

The whole album follows this basic pattern, and my reaction to each song is basically the same. The music is well-produced and I can't find a song on the album that has been completely butchered or even poorly played, but the sounds are superfluous when the originals are just so good. I do particularly enjoy "Everybody Knows This Nowhere" by Carmen Townsend, which applies a carefree spirit that Young has never exhibited to a song that deserves some enthusiasm. "Sugar Mountain" by Louise Post is also a gorgeous cover, and Post's voice strikes just the right balance of wistfulness and anguish. If you're looking to donate money to breast cancer research, then I would donate your $21 directly. If you're just looking to experience a little Young, buy the originals, because a cover of genius work doesn't often live up to the original.

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