Sound ‘Round: Neil Young / The Everly Brothers

Songs to mom, songs from dad

Neil Young – A Letter Home (Third Man)

neil young - a letter homeAlways feisty and with a cause to champion, Young’s disdain of late has been aimed at a music biz perceived as a black hole devoid of “musical authenticity” – a cringe worthy phrase too often used by hipsters and dilettantes. For the auteur, however, the phrase damn well means everything. That this smattering of acoustic covers performed in a Voice-O-Graph at Jack White’s Third Man headquarters sounds straight out of Dust Bowl America is no gimmick. Rather, it’s a scrapbook of memories forged while singing as a child with his now-deceased mother whom he affectionately addresses in the intro. The audio pops and fizzes like a Depression-era anthem, his guitar bends in and out of tune, and his braying timbre is muffled by laughably archaic recording technology. The song selection, an assortment of obscure protests and iconic standards, were written by old-timers who share his enthusiasm for the craft: Dylan, Nelson, Springsteen, Everly and others. The whole thing would reek of fogeyism were it not for Young’s lighthearted and reverential approach to the material. Close to 70 years of age, it’s charming to hear him giddy with approval after a rendition of “On the Road Again.” As said to the former White Stripes front man who accompanies him on piano: “That was a funky one.” Agreed. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Girl From the North Country” / “Crazy” / “Early Morning Rain

The Everly Brothers – Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (Cadence, 1958)

the everly brohters - songs our daddy taught usThe lithe and insatiable rumble of their rockabilly peak is unexpectedly paused on this quaint collection of folk ballads – a progressive artistic choice with risky marketing implications at the time. The songs are penned by writers obscure and unknown ranging from the era of the New Deal to the Round Table, each one worming its way through oceans and bloodlines. The subject matter is often melancholy and the characters often doomed: A son who can’t afford a train ticket home to his dying mother, a murderer who faces the gallows after drowning his wife, a hopeless romantic ever-optimistic despite a lifetime of unrequited love. Moody, no doubt, but the morose verses are counteracted by graceful harmonies brimming with a hymnal and jubilant quality. Such earnest fragility pays dividends on the tunes absent death or wrongdoing – specifically those concerned with familial bonds and the stirring tribute to their Bluegrass home. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: Long Time Gone” / “Barbara Allen” / “Kentucky

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