I have a love/hate relationship with Neil Young. While I’ve always loved his early work, both solo and with CSNY, as my ears and his voice age, I find it harder to listen to that infamous whine for more than a few minutes at a time. But ever since I wore a used copy of his incredible, confessional album Harvest down to the groove one mopey adolescent summer, I have had nothing but admiration for Neil Young’s ability to pen poetic yet straightforward songs which give voice to the plight of the powerless and the disaffected in modern American culture.
Young gets his share of covers, though next to Dylan, Paul Simon, and Bruce Springfield, the prolific folk-rocker’s songbook is hardly what we could call well-represented. And given his lyrical bent, it’s unsurprising to find that most of the best covers have emerged from the indie and folk worlds, where musicians and audiences generally share both Young’s socio-political dissatisfaction and his fluid fondness for making music in both acoustic and electric forms. It’s not like my life has been a series of Neil Young-related disappointments.
However, where it’s easy to find strong tribute albums of Springfield or Dylan, as albums, the few Neil Young tributes I’ve encountered have been less than memorable. Last year's Uncut (UK) magazine freebie Like A Hurricane had some excellent folk artists on the roster, but all but three of those songs had been previously released, and back issues are hard to come by. Other, older tributes, like late eighties alt-rock release The Bridge, had a few good cuts, but with a few exceptions (Sonic Youth, The Pixies), The Bridge is generally considered a set of tepid work from some otherwise incredible artists.
Which makes Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity a long-overdue splash of vibrant life in an ocean of mediocrity. This new two-disc set features well-crafted Neil Young covers lovingly recorded by women who, like the previously featured Mary Lou Lord, live and play at the intersection of folk and alternative rock. The songs run the gamut from acoustic folkpop to indiefolk to electrified alternative, and unlike most multi-artist tribute albums, they fit together smoothly, making for a great and well-balanced listen from cover to cover. This is the tribute album Neil Young has deserved for most of his long and prolific career.
The proof is in the posting: I had originally planned to post this entry earlier, but the nice folks at American Laundromat let me take my pick of the collection, and I spent the first week trying to winnow down a two-CD set of great tracks to something manageable. Even after skimming off amazing songs like Luff's great grungy Tell Me Why, Eurotrash's alt-pop title cut, and Veruca Salt's post-punk Burned -- all of which, while amazing examples of indiegirl altrock in their own right, fall outside even a liberal interpretation of folk -- I had to make some hard choices in selecting which songs to share.
You’ll have to buy the album for Lori McKenna's countryfolk version of The Needle and the Damage Done, a dreamy rock anthem from Kristen Hirsh, a balanced, edgy cover of Heart of Gold from Tanya Donelly, the sweet indiefolk harmonies of the Watson Twins and Elk City, and more. But ultimately, I think I've selected a short set of streams which represent the breadth and excellence that is Cinnamon Girl.
No downloads here, folks, though I’ve dropped a few in the bonus section below. But don’t skip ahead. Press play below to hear Jill Sobule’s banjo-tinged folkrock, Kate York's breathy alt-country jam on Comes A Time, the fragile Aimee Mann-like voice-and-piano folkpop of Amilia K Spicer, and my favorite track of many, Dala’s subtle, sultry cover of A Man Need a Maid.
Kate York, Comes A Time
Jill Sobule w/ John Doe, Down By The River
Dala, A Man Needs A Maid
Note: song has a long fade-in...
Amilia K Spicer, Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Told you so. Now head over to American Laundromat to pick up your copy of Cinnamon Girl today. All proceeds go to Casting for Recovery, which provides fly fishing retreats for breast cancer survivors.
While you're there, take a look around. American Laundromat is an excellent label which specializes in pretty much all the things I like: tribute albums, the music and culture of the late eighties, and some of the best indie voices in the business. If nothing else, take a few minutes to listen to "American Laundromat radio", where you can hear Lori McKenna's cover of Peter Gabriel's classic In Your Eyes, among other tracks from their great and growing stable of tribute albums.
Today’s bonus coversongs offer up some more Neil Young tributes from the acoustic singer-songwriter branch of the femfolk world:
Still need more Neil Young coversongs? Cover Me's cover-by-cover reconstruction of Neil Young's On The Beach includes some great cuts from across the musical spectrum, including Jeff Tweedy and The Be Good Tanyas. Act quick, because the links are due to go down in the next week or two.