Judge Russell Engebretson plays a bitchin' ukelele version of "Cortez the Killer."
On January 29, 2010, Neil Young was honored as the 2010 MusiCares Person of the Year. At a gala event in Los Angeles, superstar artists paid tribute to the legendary singer, songwriter, and performer with inspired versions of some of his most memorable songs.
A MusiCares Tribute to Neil Young begins with an ad for MusiCares (a charitable organization that, among other things, helps musicians who are unable to cover their medical bills) and ends with a short speech from Neil Young. Not being one to hide his light under a basket, Young declared in his thank-you speech that he drew the biggest crowd ever for a MusiCares tribute show; however, as of February, 2011, Barbara Streisand can now claim the highest attendance figure.
The rest of the disc is devoted to covers of tunes pulled from Young's huge musical repertoire—a single song for each band. Songs, in the order played, are as follows:
• "Rockin' In The Free World" (Keith Urban/John
Fogerty/Booker T. Jones)
None of the performances were anything less than professional, but my taste in rock music runs more toward the vintage acts. Not to my liking were the pop countrified and the lounge lizard/crooner covers by Lady Antebellum, Josh Groban, Shawn Colvin, and Dierks Bentley. A couple of younger singers who delivered fine interpretations were Norah Jones and Ben Harper. The musicians who played "Rockin' In The Free World"—one fairly young guy (Keith Urban) and two oldsters (Fogerty and Jones)—delivered a hard driving, powerhouse first track. Some covers were good, but not quite hitting on all cylinders.
Dave Matthew's version of "The Needle & The Damage Done," for instance, was an almost note-for-note solo guitar reproduction that was well-played, but with no surprises. Wilco took on the difficult challenge of playing a live version of Buffalo Springfield's "Broken Arrow," a collage of tunes that was always a purely studio creation. It was a noble attempt that didn't quite work.
One that did work was Elvis Costello's gin and sawdust version of "(When You're On) The Losing End." He strummed an acoustic steel string and sang solo, delivering a vibrant, emotional interpretation. Also, Crosby, Stills, and Nash did a sweet, soaring cover of "Human Highway" with a guitar arrangement by Stills that was immaculately played but did not, for some reason, exactly fit the tune. The vocal harmonies—always the group's strong suit—were lovely.
The two tracks relegated to "Bonus" status were excellent. Ozomatli's cover of "Mr. Soul" was a kick out the jams, horn-driven arrangement—a blast of brassy ear candy. "Revolution Blues," from Neil Young's underrated On the Beach LP, was given a rousing rendition by Everest, who captured all the dark, violent fury of Young's album track, but with an added electric guitar razor-cut intensity that topped the original.
The 1080i transfer was more than adequate for a live music concert. Colors were bright and flashy, with no major artefacts in the picture, even during the frenetic zooms and pans. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track was loud and clear where needed, but also impressive on the quieter numbers. The bell-like guitar tones and graceful vocals on Norah Jones' cover of "Tell Me Why" was a real sonic treat, as was Ben Harper's laptop steel string playing. Unfortunately, there was very little surround action, mostly echoes from the rear speakers, but I still liked the 5.1 better than the stereo. The 2.0 LPCM sounded good but narrowed down the sound stage. The active center speaker on the DTS track gave the audio more punch and depth; the stereo, with its phantom center, just didn't sound as full and lively.
This disc should appeal to Neil Young fans, or perhaps fans of one or more of the other musicians involved in the tribute. Whether it's worth buying or not depends on your devotion to all things Neil, or your desire to support the MusiCares charity with a purchase. For the average rock 'n' roller, one or two views will probably suffice.
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