Musicares is an organization formulated by The Recording Academy to look after professional musicians who have fallen on hard times. The braindead—that is, Republicans and conservatives—would call this socialism and villainous, but you and I, dear reader, understand it to be compassion and the quality of being truly human rather than a pack of predatory reptiles. In a series of concerts drawing attention to artists who have not only provided the world with the fruits of their talents but also lent their money and time to aid the unfortunate, Musicares has honored Paul Simon, Tony Bennett, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, and a host of top-flight names with such galas as this latest for Neil Young, a gent who, with his wife Pegi, helped found The Bridge School for children with severe speech and physical impairments. Their son Ben was born with cerebral palsy and, finding no satisfactory venue educationally and otherwise, the Youngs forged their own in conjunction with other parents finding themselves similarly stranded.
As would be expected, this Musicares event drew stellar participants: Dave Matthews (whom I swear I'll never again be able to look at without recalling his riveting acting job on that House episode), Jackson Brown (in the first stages of looking like Steve Howe), Booker T. (Jones), John Fogerty, CSN, Elton John, etc. I suppose it was inevitable that the setting would be a glitzy tinselly Vegas style arrangement (a silent auction always follows these confabs, sooooo…) but this seems not to get too much in the way of the performances, opening with Keith Urban, John Fogerty, and Booker T. in a take on Rocking in the Free World to get the blood pumping. Lady Antebellum follows with a pretty do-up of Only Love Can Break Your Heart leading into a sensitive acoustic recital of The Needle and the Damage Done by Matthews, delivered in Young's trademark falsetto. Josh Groban gifts a beautiful and hyper-romantic Harvest Moon, and Jason Mraz renders a great Lotta Love while Shawn Colvin mails in her part, but the act most in the spirit of Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, and Crazy Horse was one they stuck in the addendory bonus features to this disc, Everest doing a rave-up on Revolution Blues.
This brings us to the flipside. Sigh!, it's time to don my full duty as a critic, not just a descriptioneer.
There are indeed flaws here. It's obvious the entire affair was rushed, just one song to a customer thank you very much, that the house band was just that: a generic ensemble and not intimately linked to the performers (amusing that Wilco and the uproarious combos—Ozomatli, Everest—were granted a side stage completely bereft of formatted assignments, in Wilco's case necessary to faithfully reproduce the psychedelically pastiched nature of the original Broken Arrow), that some sort of corporate hand was riding herd, and that much more could've been wrung from the performers were things different. More, too many wore tie, tux, or blazer and then whatever personal affects besides. That costumery didn't work out too well...unless bourgeois airs were the unstated theme. Mighta been, hard to tell.
I'll use a recent benchmark as a yardstick: Steve Dawson's marvelous Mississippi Sheiks tribute. Wanna really tributize? That's the way to do it. His affair was 235% artist oriented while this one was obviously managed, supervised, and punchclocked by suits. It hardly matters, I suppose, as the basis of the charitable heart of the project outweighed all other considerations, but it definitely matters very much as art, and I hate to see either sacrificed for the other. One cannot complain regarding the chance to see and hear great Young comps covered, not at all, but the timbre contrast between the naked business dominance of the affair and the artistic wont is unavoidable. I feel quite sure those involved walked in, did their part, felt happy to support the cause, and then shook their heads at having a PTA assembly-line the whole process.
Happens all the time, actually; that's why the indies and the alt bands started up in the first place, and why the mainstream music world is in decadent chaos. With Musicares, at least, the end product is worthy enough in sufficient ways to justify the problematic nature of it all. Still……
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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