Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Yesterday we took a look at the early years of Neil Young, as represented on the first two sides of Decade (if you missed it, click here to get caught up). Today, it’s sides three and four’s turn; a dozen artists looking at a dozen classics a dozen different ways…
Barnstar! – Cowgirl in the Sand (Neil Young cover)
Led by Mark Erelli, Barnstar! is proud to perform “bluegrass for people who hate bluegrass.” They take a cattle prod to “Cowgirl,” giving it a jolt the original doesn’t have and keeping it from rambling off the path; given direction, the song snaps into focus in a whole new way.
Robin Zander – I Believe in You (Neil Young cover)
Robin Zander waited twenty years before releasing his first solo album – of course, when you’re the lead singer for a band like Cheap Trick, what’s the rush? Among other tracks, it featured this version of “I Believe in You,” one of Young’s most emotionally wrenching songs, and a great showcase for Zander’s voice, one of the most expressive and influential in rock music.
k.d. lang – After the Gold Rush (Neil Young cover)
Canadians are proud to honor their own; for instance, take 2004’s Hymns of the 49th Parallel, k.d. lang’s salute to some of her favorite songwriters from her homeland. Young merits two covers on lang’s album; her take on “After the Gold Rush” has been slowly steeped in deep respect.
Sylvester and the Hot Band – Southern Man (Neil Young cover)
This is one of the most radically reworked Neil Young covers you’re likely to hear. It’s a rock-funk rendition of “Southern Man” by Sylvester, who went on to find success in the disco years with “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” Here, he takes Young’s condemnation of racism in the American South and gives it a lot more kick with a little bit of soul.
Patti Smith – Helpless (CSNY cover)
Patti Smith gives “Helpless” a steady, rueful reading on Twelve, her all-cover album from 2007. Young’s evocation of natural beauty is one of his most poetic lyrics; little wonder that the song resonates with Smith the way it does.
Ben Taylor – Ohio (CSNY cover)
“It’s still hard to believe I had to write this song,” Young wrote about “Ohio,” his protest song about the Kent State shootings. Ben Taylor’s cover comes from Song of America, a three-CD collection of cover songs that doubles as a historical document of the country. Taylor’s doom-laden performance does a fine job of getting across the pain and horror of the moment.
Janet Bean and the Concertina Wire – Soldier (Neil Young cover)
Young wonders why a soldier’s eyes shine like the sun; by the end, we’re afraid to find out ourselves. Janet Bean gets that, and cloaks her cover of “Soldier” in shadows of fear of the unknown, with instrumentation as jarring as it is pretty. It’s a genuine accomplishment of Bean’s that she can take such an idiosyncratic song and make it her own.
Lizz Wright – Old Man (Neil Young cover)
Harvest was Young’s most popular album, and five tracks from it appeared on Decade. The first, “Old Man,” features James Taylor and Linda Rondstadt joining him for a country-folk sound. Lizz Wright’s cover is a different kind of country altogether; the steam heat of the Bayou rolls lightly across its back, while her honey-smoked voice turns Young’s plaintive wail into a cool declaration.
Blue Epic – A Man Needs a Maid (Neil Young cover)
Blue Epic may not have the London Symphony Orchestra backing them up, the way Young did when he recorded “A Man Needs a Maid,” but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s not hard for them to make that change and recreate the song in their image, with lush ringing guitars that help make the band sound like they’re based in London (actually, they’re from Alabama).
Jeremy Fisher – Harvest (Neil Young cover)
Remember when we said that Canadians are proud to honor their own? Here’s further proof, taken from Borrowed Tunes II, a two-disc compilation of Canadian artists covering Neil Young songs (part I will be represented here later). “Harvest” is done by Jeremy Fisher, who usually resembles Paul Simon vocally; here, he goes for a reedier, Neilier tone, and almost instantly, the song becomes an old friend.
Charles Bradley – Heart of Gold (Neil Young cover)
We’ve featured Charles Bradley’s “Heart of Gold” cover before; in fact, it was one of our top ten covers last year. Please forgive us throwing the spotlight on it one more time – but really, the song is that dynamic, that dominating, that deserving, that damn good.
Scott Miller – Star of Bethlehem (Neil Young cover)
Scott Miller’s cover of “Star of Bethlehem” appears on his Christmas Gift EP. The original has been called “a ruthlessly realistic view of love,” “one of the most pessimistic songs about faith ever written,” and “a fragile acoustic ballad… balanced between private grief and hope for the future.” Bottom line: we’ll never know what it’s about – for all we know, it is a Christmas song – so let’s just appreciate it for what it is. It’s clear that Miller does exactly that.