Tag Archives: Ben Harper

MusiCares: Neil Young

Got to see the video of the show tonight, and I feel bad being disappointed, but that’s the truth.

Let’s start by separating the wheat from the chaff – MusiCares  is a first-rate organization, and I have nothing but respect for any artists that donate their time to help raise funds for charity. During his acceptance speech as Person of the Year, Young stated that it was the biggest crowd to date. I believe Barbara Streisand topped the total this year – it’s for charity, that’s a good thing, people! Neil’s philanthropy is well-known, and between his recorded legacy and his charitable efforts, I’m frankly surprised it took that long to honor him with the award.

But since the DVD was being heavily marketed during the broadcast, all bets are off. The performances are what they were, and that is – sad to say – particularly uninspired. With a wealth of amazing material to choose from, sometimes it was a bad match of artist and song, sometimes just an underwhelming performance. And surprisingly, two of the most banal came from a pair of legendary artists. Jackson Browne and James Taylor breezed through their songs as if they did not comprehend the lyrical content. Taylor, in particular, was innocuous despite the support of an all-star chorus of background singers.

People my age will remember the double take they did when Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle, USMC) first opened his mouth and sang. I get the same feeling when Josh Groban’s voice comes out of Josh Groban’s head. Technically, a great voice, but eerily mismatched to the material for my tastes. And while it’s always nice to see Elton John perform – and I’m really thankful that he is making Leon Russell relevant again, I wish he shared more of “Helpless” with Neko Case and Sheryl Crow, who were reduced to background vocals (and phenomenal eye candy).

 Many of the other performers – Lady Antebellum, John Mellencamp, Elvis Costello, CSN – were good, not great, while others (Dave Matthews, Dierks Bentley) were immediate fast-forward moments. What did work wonders were John Fogerty (with Keith Urban) bashing out “Rockin’ In The Free World” and Wilco’s amazing rendition of “Broken Arrow“, an absolute jaw-dropper. Kudos also to Ben Harper’s rousing “Ohio“, a song he seemed totally invested in that one would think he was a Kent State alumni (no – I’m not checking).

If you pick up this DVD, your money (or some portion thereof) will go to a good cause, and there are a couple of strong performances worthy of multiple repeats. I’m just saying that you, too, are being charitable… to some of the performers if you skip over their tracks.

Get yer Neil on here.

Wilco hit the bulls-eye with "Broken Arrow"

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Blast From The Past: I Am Sam

Beatle Weekend, Part One.

Also known as How To Sell A Beatles Tribute Album With A Movie Tie-In. The premise of the relationship between this collection of Beatles covers (more specifically, Lennon-McCartney covers) and the Sean Penn film is Penn’s character’s affinity for Beatles music.

Fine by me. I imagine the reason that not too many of the artists strayed from the formula had more to do with “keeping it real” for the imagination of the Sam character (mentally challenged) than the participant’s unwillingness to experiment with established classics. Regardless, great songs are great songs, and several of the almost spot-on performances (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn on “Two Of Us” and Sheryl Crow’s “Mother Nature’s Son“) are enjoyable versions that could have been bonus tracks on those respective artists’ albums.

Video: “Two of Us“, “Blackbird“, “I’m Looking Through You

Some veer slightly off the path, like The Vines with “I’m Only Sleeping” (great finish), Stereophonics‘ soulful “Don’t Let Me Down” and Howie Day’s desperate reading of “Help“. I would have preferred that The Black Crowes tackle something raucous like “Birthday“, as their restrained performance of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is missing a spark. The original “Across The Universe” succeeded largely because of the vocal; Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation grows tired very quickly. Paul Westerberg disappoints with a dull “Nowhere Man” but Ben Harper surprised me with his solid take on “Strawberry Fields Forever“.

Oddest moments: Not hearing “The Weight” immediately after “Golden Slumbers” (Ben Folds, natty) and Eddie Vedder making “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” sound like a suicide note. Then again, most things Vedder sings could fit that description.

(This 2002 review originally ran in Yeah Yeah Yeah, Issue #21.)

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