Sunday, April 12, 2009

(Various) - "The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young" (LP Review )

This review goes out to Daryl, a HS/college friend that turned me on to this LP as well as various others by Neil Young, Bob Dylan and similar artists. "The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young" is a 1989 tribute LP released on Caroline Records featuring various artists (mostly 80s college / alternative rock) covering songs originally by Neil Young. The LP supported The Bridge School, which teaches communication skills to children with severe impairments. The Bridge School was co-founded by Neil's wife, Pegi: their two sons have cerebral palsy and their daughter has epilepsy. See also the concert benefit series the "Bridge School Benefit". Neil has said that the prominent use of a vocoder on the commercially unsuccessful "Trans" LP in 1982 was inspired by his efforts to communicate with his son.

As I explained in an earlier review I really like covers, so naturally I like tribute LPs. The only problem with tribute LPs is they often have wildly uneven quality. Some of the artists and/or song choices really work and some don't. While Neil Young's canon is hard to reduce to 15 songs, the only song that is arguably missing is "Heart of Gold " from 1972's "Harvest" . "Heart of Gold" is too popular, and there seems to be an unwritten rule on tribute LPs that nobody wants to cover the artist's most popular song (presumably choosing a more obscure song to cover demonstrates your depth of knowledge).

Lifting the track listing straight from Wikipedia:

  1. "Barstool Blues" – Soul Asylum – 2:51
  2. "Don't Let It Bring You Down" – Victoria Williams – 2:53
  3. "After the Gold Rush" – The Flaming Lips – 4:14
  4. "Captain Kennedy" – Nikki Sudden – 4:01
  5. "Cinnamon Girl" – Loop – 2:50
  6. "Helpless" – Nick Cave – 4:32
  7. "Mr. Soul" – Bongwater – 3:30
  8. "Winterlong" – Pixies – 3:11
  9. "Computer Age" – Sonic Youth – 5:13
  10. "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" – Psychic TV – 6:08
  11. "Lotta Love" – Dinosaur Jr. – 2:41
  12. "The Needle and the Damage Done"/"Tonight's The Night" – Henry Kaiser – 5:54
  13. "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" by B.A.L.L. – 2:16
  14. "Words (Between The Lines Of Ages)" by Henry Kaiser – 6:19

Tracks 13 and 14 were bonus, CD-only tracks. Listening to them, it is clear why they did not make the cut for the vinyl or tape version of the LP. The LP would have been stronger without track 12 as well: Henry Kaiser's medley of "The Needle and the Damage Done" and "Tonight's the Night". But the worst offender is Victoria Williams providing the guest vocals on "Words", who transforms probably my favorite song from "Harvest" into a shrill, unlistenable wreck of a song. Her version of "Don't Let it Bring You Down" is not very good, but on "Words" she is just terrible.

But the LP provides some truly sublime covers as well, some that arguably transcend the originals. Soul Asylum's version of "Barstool Blues" is up-tempo and brassy and it captures a type of franticness and desperation missing from Zuma's more honky-tonk version. The Pixies do an incredible version of "Winterlong" (released only on the compilation triple LP "Decade"). But Sonic Youth's version of "Computer Age" is the gem of the collection. Sonic Youth has the ability in their cover songs to both honor the original version and at the same time completely make the song their own (cf. their transformation of the protagonist from helpless victim to stalker in "Superstar" on The Carpenters tribute LP "If I Were a Carpenter"). "Computer Age" was released on the above-mentioned "Trans" LP and Sonic Youth reconstructed it from a puzzling vocoder/disco version it into an amazing song. I'm a pretty big fan of Sonic Youth, but I'd also love to see them do a covers LP like Yo La Tengo's "Fakebook".

While the above three songs are probably my favorite on the LP, Bongwater, Nick Cave, Psychic TV and Dinosaur Jr. all do enjoyable versions of their songs as well (note: Dinosaur Jr. went to great lengths to ensure their version of "Lotta Love" sounds nothing like the Nicolette Larson version).

Standout tracks: "Barstool Blues", "Winterlong", "Computer Age", "Helpless", "Mr. Soul", "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", "Lotta Love" (Not many canonical versions since this LP is not well represented online; I welcome suggestions for additional links).

Skip 'em tracks: "The Needle and the Damage Done"/"Tonight's the Night", "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)", "Words (Between the Lines of Age)"

Final Score: 8/10. This might be the best start-to-finish tribute LP in my collection.

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