Neil Young casts a long shadow in the music world.
Few can compare to his output as a songwriter or performer over the last 40-plus years, but an even better testament comes when other artists have the chance to honor him.
An example of this influence comes in "A Musicares Tribute to Neil Young," released on DVD and Blu-ray by Shout! Factory on May 31. From contemporaries like Elton John, John Fogerty and old bandmates Crosby, Stills and Nash, to twentysomethings such as Josh Groban and Lady Antebellum, artists from across the generations showed up at this January 2010 event to honor Young as the Musicares Artist of the Year.
What comes through immediately is Young's ability as a songwriter. Much like the songs of Bob Dylan, Young's songs transcend singer, arrangement and genre. In the hands of capable performers, the strength of the songs come through.
This is evident in Lady Antebellum's beautiful rendition of "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." The arrangement doesn't differ greatly from Young's original, but the band's harmonies sound nothing like Young's vocals. It's nothing to complain about, though.
The starkest contrast to Young's voice comes in Groban's performance of "Harvest Moon." While Groban's operatic voice is nothing like Young's shaky delivery, the beauty and romance of the song remain.
On the other hand, there's Dave Matthews' take on "The Needle and the Damage Done," which is basically a Neil Young impersonation with a different accent.
In the end, though, neither artist is wrong in his approach. The songs are great, and that comes through in all the performances.
One small disappointment came from the fact that Young himself never performed during the show, particularly when Crosby, Stills and Nash did "Human Highway." Getting the band back together never sounded so good.
The disc is a wonderful tribute, not only to Young's music, but also his humanitarian work. Musicares provides emergency financial assistance and medical assistance to artists in need. Each year, they honor a musician making similar humanitarian efforts.
With his work through the years for the Bridge School and Farm Aid, Young is certainly deserving.
My spin: A
What other grade can you give a project whose proceeds benefit a worthy charity?
It's more than that, though. These are amazing songs, whoever is performing them. Any project that gets Booker T and Dierks Bentley collaborating on "Cinnamon Girl" is OK by me.
If you're a fan of good music, buy this disc and support a good cause.
A Musicares Tribute to Neil Young
Released: May 31 on Shout! Factory
Artists: Dierks Bentley, Jackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, Neko Case, Shawn Colvin, Elvis Costello, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Sheryl Crowe, Everest, John Fogerty, Josh Groban, Ben Harper, Elton John, Booker T. Jones, Norah Jones, Lady Antebellum, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Jason Mraz, Ozomatli, Leon Russell, James Taylor, Keith Urban, Wilco