I had the pleasure of attending Farm Aid on Saturday, and in between great acts like Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Steve Earle, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and The Elms, there was a lot of talk about the plight of the family farmer. I hadn’t thought that much about the dirt since I went strawberry picking in elementary school and couldn’t find one clean enough for my standards. So for those of you who also forget about the hoe and plow-wielding among us, who are on hard times indeed, here’s a little reminder. And oh, check out my Farm Aid review, with some show downloads here.
Levon Helm – Poor Old Dirt Farmer (Tracy Schwarz)
Last year’s critically acclaimed album Dirt Farmer could have been this set by himself. Here the ex-Band drummer rocks some Americana harmonies and down on the porch vibes. This Band tale of a farmer down on his luck sounds awfully similar to something though.
Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers – King Harvest (Has Surely Come) (The Band)
Oh yeah, that’s it. Same story, different words. A similar feel to the original, but with the energy amped up.
Baby Loves Jazz Band – Old MacDonald (Trad.)
Making your infant listen to classical music is so 1990; for the hip, modern youngster, play them ready-made jazz interpretations of kiddie songs in the Baby Loves Jazz series. They change the title to “Old MacDonald Had a Band,” and you can guess where it goes from there.
Pumajaw – Piggies (The Beatles)
It wouldn’t be much of a farm without some piggies, though I’m not sure Harrison had actual pigs in mind here. This comes from Mojo magazine’s recent two-disc compilation of covers of the full White Album called, appropriately, The White Album Recovered. Worth tracking down.
The White Stripes – Boll Weevil (Leadbelly / Trad.)
Now here’s an animal you certainly don’t want on your farm. Jack White updates this dust bowl tale of a fierce pest with a verse about himself, creating a crowd favorite that the Stripes usually close their shows with.
Melissa McClelland – Factory (Bruce Springsteen)
This isn’t technically about farming, but so much breath was used Saturday bemoaning the evils of factory farms taking over from the local guy I thought the bad guys needed a nod. This is a little sympathetic, showing how the employees of said factories are probably getting screwed too. And as many of the factory farm employees could be ex-independent farmers themselves, it makes this especially appropriate.
Tim O’Brien – Maggie’s Farm (Bob Dylan)
One of the premier Dylan interpreters, O’Brien’s bluegrass covers are always thought-out and effective. This one actually sounds like how the farm employee would sound singing it.
Bob Dylan – Gospel Plow (Trad.)
From Bob’s first, covers-heavy album, it shows amazing harmonica talent not often seen again when he started focusing on lyrics.
Waitswatcher – Murder in the Red Barn (Tom Waits)
Pascal “Waitswatcher” Fricke has been featured here before, but each instrumental take on Tom Waits songs is an instant classic. This one’s slow building and dark, telling you everything you need to know without a single word.
Neil Young – A Day in the Life (The Beatles)
What does “A Day in the Life” have to do with farming, you might add? Nothing. But Neil Young covered this for his final song Saturday night, and here’s the recording. Gone is the orchestral finesse, replaced by distortion, wailing and a climactic finish where he banged his guitar around stage and finally ripped the strings out one by one. If you like what you hear, download the full show here.