Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Cinnamon Girl - Women Artists Cover Neil Young"

(Originally posted by Jill and Michelle on Jan 22, 2008)

"Cinnamon Girl - Women Artists Cover Neil Young"

The first song that I tried to learn the guitar solo on was Neil Young's "Down By the River." I never had heard anything quite like it before. It sounded like a cross between a machine-gun in slow motion and a rat (I'm not sure what that means). And more sounded like I could play it - the first 4 measures were pretty much just one note.

As much as I tried, I could not imitate the kind of ham-fisted tone and beauty of that single note. To this day Neil Young is not only one of my favorite singer/songwriter types, but is also my favorite under-appreciated guitar genius.

So when I got the email asking if I wanted to contribute a song to a Neil Young tribute, I was thrilled, said yes, and knew what song I wanted to do. Plus, the compilation included other women artists who I have admired for a long time: Tanya Donelly, Kristen Hirsh, and Lori McKenna, among others.

I asked Tanya (whose "Heart of Gold beautifully opens Disk One) and Britta Phillips (whose "I Am a Child" is one of my favorites) some questions about Neil - basically, if they were Neil Young fans, and why they chose the songs they did.

Oh, by the way, I covered "Down By the River" and played the solo...on banjo.

I have always been a big Neil Young fan. Since Jr. High School. But I had never heard "I Am A Child" before I was sent the list of available songs to cover for this compilation. I chose this song because it seemed to fit one of the styles that Dean and I have been interested in exploring on our last two albums. Neil Young's version is sort of country, but it has a definite pop element to it as well as simple but beautiful and sophisticated-sounding chord changes, like a lot of Lee Hazlewood or Bobbie Gentry songs. The music is happy and beautiful and the lyrics are a bit complex and dark. This combination always gets me. I also love the drum & bass groove and really wanted to try and recreate that soothing retro feel in my home studio. Just me and my computer. The end of the song turned into this late 60s/early 70s psychedelic/pop/country thing. I love how pop songs back then really crossed over genres.

His (Neil's) voice was all over my childhood - he was my folks' favorite - and then I rediscovered him for myself in my late teens, when I was ready to really hear him. I always want to hear everything he has to say. He makes me feel better. I just love this song ("Heart of Gold"). I think it's perfect, actually - structurally, lyrically, musically. There aren't very many words, but they say everything and I can relate to every single one of them. I love that such strong images and heartbreak and hope all come through in a few lines, and that harmonica is a killer. I just love it.

Right before I was about to post this, I heard back from Leigh (Watson Twins) on the haunting cover of "Powderfinger" and Darcie Miner on her fab cover of "Ohio.

Neil Young came to me via CSNY (Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young). I was taken by their harmonies and the intricate musical progressions. That perfect combo made me a fan not only of them as a group, but them as individual songwriters. Neil Young is a master when it comes to story telling, I think for this reason "Powderfinger" stands out in his catalog. The song also carries Neil's infamous guitar lead. We felt that trying to emulate this guitar master might be tough, so my sister and decided to recreate this hook vocally. It was fun and I feel like it really worked for our cover of the song. We slowed things down to try and make the focus the lyrics. We're from Louisville, KY, a river city, so the imagery is something that we could connect too.

Darcy Miner:
Yes, huge Neil Young fan! Harvest has been one of my favorite records forever. And I think one of the first songs I learned to play and sing was "Old Man." I chose "Ohio" because it's one of the darkest songs ever written about one of the worst things to happen in the U.S. at the time. The lyrics are fearless, and i have a deep appreciation for that.
I have a thing for the dark side i guess - ha.

"Cinnamon Girl - Women Artists Cover Neil Young" will be out Feb. 14, but I think you can order it now. Oh, all the proceeds go to CASTING FOR RECOVERY, a national non-profit support and educational program for women who have or have had breast cancer.

Side note: I asked John Doe to help out on my version of Down By the River.

He is the only boy listed. I think he may like it like that.

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