Tag Archives: Neil Young

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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T.G.I.F. – Ten Tunes For Americans

Ding dong, the bitch is dead!

Yeah, I’m feeling patriotic this week. Who isn’t? Well, maybe not patriotic like Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” or James Cagney as George M. Cohan belting out “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. But after this week’s activities, why not let that freak flag fly a bit?

So here are Ten Tunes for Americans. Rock out with your face out!

(01) – American Girl (Tom Petty)

(02) – Dancing In The Street  (Martha and The Vandellas)

(03) – Celebration (Kool and the Gang)

(04) – Rockin’ In The Free World (Neil Young)

(05) – Get Together (The Youngbloods)

(06) – Pink Houses  (John Mellencamp)

(07) – (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right To Party (Beastie Boys)

(08) – People Got To be Free  (The Rascals)

(09) – Living In America (James Brown)

(10) – America (Simon and Garfunkel)

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Bad Things In Threes, Again

Certainly not comparing it to earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdownbut yeah, famous deaths have a tendency to triangulate. and with Elizabeth Taylor passing today, that’s three in four days, albeit three who outlived their atomic half-life and made tremendous contributions to their art.

Ralph Mooney left us on March 20th. A celebrated musician’s musician, he basically pioneered the steel guitar sound in popular country music and worked with a Who’s Who of famous names. A critical element of the Bakersfield Sound, you can hear that Buck Owens and Merle Haggard influence across the board in Americana and country-rock music. And you rockers, check those Burrito Brothers and Neil Young albums where his sound appears even when his name doesn’t.

Pinetop Perkins walked offstage on Monday the 21st at ninety-seven (!) years old. Last month, he won a Grammy for Joined at the Hip (with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith) so he wasn’t exactly slouching. A bluesman from Mississippi like Muddy Waters, he played in the latter’s band for years and was most famous as a sideman…until he was in his eighties. He won a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and was featured in the Martin Scorsese / Clint Eastwood film Piano Blues. Check his website for much more information on the American treasure.

And Elizabeth Taylor shipped off today, March 23rd

I prefer to remember the younger vibrant actress rather than the perfume-pimping Jacko compadre of later years, although during that period she did yeoman’s work on behalf of AIDS. I’ll forever remember her in Giant with James Dean and Rock Hudson, although she interacted with a tremendous cast including Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper, Earl Holliman and Rod Taylor. It was near the beginning of a great run of movies flanked on both sides by forgettable flicks.

I’ll remember the debacle about Cleopatra and the odd relationship she had with Richard Burton and how my Mom was a dead ringer for her when she was young. I’ll try to forget that she was better known for tabloid fodder than natural talent, but I’ll never forget those violet eyes.

They don’t make movie stars like that anymore.

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Sloan Celebrates Twenty Years

Oh Canada!

Indie powerpop favorites Sloan are set to release their brand new album The Double Cross in May. The title is a nod and a wink to their twentieth anniversary (XX = double cross), a feat that makes me tip my cap in respect…yet makes me feel old.

Our beloved northern neighbors have always sent us great music; Neil Young and The Guess Who were staples of my youth and consistently entertaining artists (Neil, of course, has a streak Cal Ripken would be proud of). But more recent faves like The Pursuit of Happiness and The Odds have not quite caught fire here despite making some of the most infectious and intelligent pop and rock music of their era – more on that tomorrow. Maybe Arcade Fire walking away with the Grammy is a good luck charm and a signal that musical awareness is hip again?

And Sloan is no different, falling firmly into that “how can they not be huge” category in the States. After album after album of great music – featuring the unusual balance of four solid singer/songwriters happily sharing the spotlight – Canadian fans have rightfully tossed out comparisons to the legends, right up to the holy grail of the Fab Four. Maybe hearing “Canada’s Beatles” has caused enough skepticism to scare people away, but this is one time when you should sidestep the hype and listen.

Get yer Sloan on.

I’m still buzzing over the thirty-track Never Hear The End Of It (these boys do have a sense of humor!), and albums like Twice Removed and One Chord To Another should be staples of anyone’s collection. So count me among the geeked. According to the press release, “the band will be celebrating all year long with special shows, an exclusive one-of-a-kind album artwork series and much more“, so stay tuned for some hopefully special events.

Go to their website and start with a free download of “Follow The Leader“.

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Brit Film Awards and Dead Namesakes

The 64th Annual British Academy Film Awards were announced today, and I guess it’s no surprise that The King’s Speech would take Best Picture over there. But that is some serious momentum in a category that was all but conceded to The Social Network  not so long ago. Only two weeks until the Academy Awards, and it looks like we might have a couple of horse races after all. The major awards went this way:

Best Picture: The King’s Speech

Best Actor: Colin Firth

Best Actress: Natalie Portman

Best Director: David Fincher

Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush

Best Supporting Actress: Helena Bonham Carter

That’s four of the big six going to The King’s Speech; only Carter would be considered an underdog for the Oscar, although Christian Bale still looks like the favorite over Rush. The Brits do love their own (Rush is an Aussie, close enough) but momentum-leading Melissa Leo wasn’t even nominated for a BAFTA.

I’m just thrilled that the brilliant dark humorist Chris Morris won an award as first-time director for Four Lions. Maybe there is hope for award ceremonies.

The full list of nominees and winners can be found here.

As to the second part of today’s title, I was stunned ten days ago to read that Neil Young, Robert Young and Tony Levin all died on February 3rd.

I was briefly logging on to a news website and almost spat out my coffee wondering why the loss of a rock legend, a classic TV Dad and one of the best bass players ever to walk the Earth had not gotten even a crawl mention on CNN. Turns out that while celebrity deaths do happen in threes, the deceased were not the people I imagined but instead were an English footballer, a former Olympian and a jazz drummer.

Condolences to the families and friends of the actual deceased of course. And while I should have remembered that TV’s Robert Young left this mortal coil twelve years ago, I’m happy to report that Neil Young and Tony Levin are still alive and rocking. Like Meatloaf sang, two out of three ain’t bad.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Smiles of the Week

Barry Levinson’s great film Diner remains one of my favorite movies, ever. Wonderful cast – Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser, Kevin Bacon and many more – and although the coming of age story predates my own, I can identify with the feeling of juggling hope and hopelessness one encounters when transitioning into a more responsible life. Music geeks will identify with Shrieve; his obsessive knowledge of the tiniest fragment of information on a record, his frustration when his wife can’t follow his complicated system and misfiles his albums after playing them.

Bacon plays an irreverent, drunken guy who just doesn’t take anything seriously; he’s in it for the laughs. When something great happens, he often declares that it’s the “smile of the week“.

I’ll take a slight liberty with his phrase for my TGIF theme this week and list ten things that brought a smile to my face during a week when I really needed it. So enjoy these Ten Smiles Of The Week

(01) Australian comic genius Jim Jefferies

(02) Gov’t Mule playing Neil Young‘s Rockin’ In The Free World

(03) What Tina Fey really said during the Mark Twain Award ceremony.

(04) Rich Vos killing at the Jim Florentine Roast

(05) The Futon Critic‘s list of remaining TV episodes.

Great album!

(06) Brendan Benson and The Posies playing “September Gurls

(07) Newly revised NFL logos (don’t miss page 2 as well)

(08) How to make millions…by farming!

(09) Titus Welliver, who makes any show better just by being in it.

(10) Daniel Stern and Ellen Barkin in that scene from Diner.

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Blast From The Past: Whiskeytown

When the insurgent roots music movement started to take hold – call it alt-country, No Depression or Y’Alternative music – a flood of bands that tied back to Gram Parsons, Neil Young and classic country artists from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash started to milk a serious buzz. Near the front of the pack was a loosely raucous band from Raleigh, North Carolina called Whiskeytown, and their lead martyr singer and songwriter Ryan Adams.

A skilled and interesting collaborative band (with Caitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric “Skillet” Gilmore and Mike Daly), Whiskeytown released its debut Faithless Street, which bowled over critics and landed them a major label deal. By the time the second album Stranger’s Almanac was released, the group was known for its self-destructive tendencies as much as its musical brilliance, the lion’s share of that squarely on the head of Adams. Reading interviews at the time I realized that I was watching someone emulating Keith Richards; I just didn’t know how much of it was by accident.

Thankfully, I was wrong about Adams in a multitude of ways. He didn’t drink himself into an early grave, even when the band imploded in 2000. In fact, he was so prolific between 2000 and 2005 (eight releases!) that the plaudits became even more gargantuan. Like some of his heroes and influences, he juggled both popular acclaim and commercial success, and it looked like he was a step away from releasing that album or song that would place his name on everyone’s lips (or perhaps spontaneously combust).

Having juggled the solo image and with his more traditional band The Cardinals, he opted for the latter and released two more albums over the next five years. Like contemporaries and heroes Wilco, he’s prone to experiment with styles and now has left them to form a rock trio. I haven’t even heard Orion, his newest record; I’m not certain I want to hear Ryan Adams doing metal (even if he did get his start in a punk band). But there’s no denying the early classics, and I hope he still has a few tricks like that left in his worn out sachel.

Here’s my short shot review of Strangers Almanac from 1997:

+++

Ryan Adams is a hell of a songwriter for a guy in his early twenties, but I’d get the suicide watch started right now. Desperation set to music works both ways, and Adams mines the vein like the forefathers he so drunkenly pretends he isn’t influenced by (perhaps his own line sums it up best – “I can’t stand to be under your wing”). When he’s more uptempo he wears his Paul Westerberg on his sleeve (“Yesterday’s News”) and other times a Neil Young ghost will rear its head (“Turn Around”).

But he’s also savvy enough to diversify the instrumentation. Fiddle and horns alternately pick a song up (“Sixteen Days”) and take it out at the knees (the pained and haunting “Everything I Do”). One of the most powerful and depressing records of 1997, and I mean those both as compliments.

Listen to clips from Strangers Almanac

Whiskeytown page at Lost Highway Records


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