The full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox is referred to as the Harvest Moon. This time is upon us for 2023 and this year the show is particularly impressive, as our satellite is particularly close to us as a Supermoon. It could also be a time to revisit Neil Young’s 1992 classic album Harvest Moon. That is what his fellow Canadian Bella White has done, with a new cover of “Unknown Legend.”
When Young brought some of his Harvest collaborators back together for Harvest Moon, he was seen as being in a reflective mood. His hearing was also in need of a less raucous noise around him. One of the standout tracks on the album, released as a single, was “Unknown Legend.” Based on women that he knew, and in one case was married to (Pegi Young), it talks about loss of freedom. The male protagonist wanted her because of her free spirit, and now has her in a not-so-gilded cage. The song has not been widely covered, but our favorite from the Best of Neil Young countdown is another female voice emphasizing the song’s wistful elements.
Bella White’s version doubles down on the country motifs, with her bluegrass sensibility and intonation. Emerging from jamming with her band during the recording of her latest album, the song is dedicated to many Unknown Legends that White has encountered as a musician on the road. Producer Jonathan Wilson’s resophonic guitar covers the iconic Ben Keith steel guitar parts, which are more in the foreground than in the original. White’s vocals concentrate to a greater extent on the female protagonist than the original does. One of the benefits (or curse) of having Linda Ronstadt as a backing singer on the original is that the trade name of the motorcycle is strongly emphasized in beautiful harmony, as is the chrome it features. The aspects of the marvelous waitress’ life do not get that emphasis to the same degree. With a single vocalist, the delivery is much more even, and her life gets the prominence it deserves.