Top critical review
In Case You Were Wondering
on May 20, 2011
You might ask what is going on here when, to date, 6 reviewers have given this album 4 or 5 stars and another 6 have given only 1 star (and probably wished they could have given zero).
The answer, I believe, lies in Cmh Records having elected to market this instrumental collection (alternatively titled "Gettin' High on Neil Young") as "a Bluegrass tribute". The music is down-home pickin' all righty, but there are many styles of down-home pickin' in this world. The Bluegrass genre is a specific type of high powered group playing invented by Bill Monroe, using a set range of instrumentation and a set form of playing (and singing). There are quite a few people who love that type of music exclusively, or at least above all other music. So you can well imagine their horror when they pull off the shrink-wrap, slap the album on their player and hear the first track with its reggae-like back-beat electric guitar and a little light snare drumming to fill things out. Going further, one finds bongos, triangles and harmonica as well as such things as jazz piano, off-rhythms, dead stops and string harmonics, making it very clear that this is not actual Bluegrass music. "New Grass" maybe, but the damage has been done. Thus the negative reviews from those who feel misled. And if anyone wandered into this album looking for Neil Young style Rock'n'Roll, that's a complete wash-out. Also, what's up with not identifying the players anywhere on the album? That doesn't bode well.
The positive reviews evidently come from people who do not share the same Bluegrass fanaticism, casual listeners mostly, who just like the pleasant sounds they hear. Personally, I resonate with their appreciation for a nice tune, if not with their apparent indifference to 20th century traditions in acoustic music.
The music on this album is for the most part creatively conceived. For all the heavy arranging, there is a fair amount of spirited playing, although some tunes do come off paradoxically as a bit bland. For the most part, Neil Young's brilliant compositions come through loud and clear and help to carry the day. It's a rough fit for a couple of the songs, notably the distressingly over-arranged "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere", but we expect a few duds in most albums don't we. For most people, the fun may be largely from recognizing a familiar tune played in a new way. To me, that's a very good thing.
So essentially, I take a middle view on this album. I like having it in my collection, to round out the variety of my choices, but I can't give it more then 3 stars. There's certainly nothing ground breaking here. It's all pleasant enough, but probably not worth, say, taking the time to write an online review. It should also be noted that this album is a part of a much larger series of similar commercial projects with self-explanatory titles such as "Tangled Up In Bluegrass: A Tribute To Dylan" and "Jamming: Blue Grass Celebrates Bob Marley". One shudders to think of the possibilities.