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DVD Review: A MusiCares’ Tribute to Neil Young

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SRP: $21.98 (Blu-ray) / $16.98 (DVD)
running time: 70 min.

May 31, 2011 – By Glenn McDonald

The new MusiCares’ Tribute to Neil Young DVD features a couple dozen top-notch performers honoring Young in an evening of cover songs and tributes.  It’s a 70 -minute, bare-bones, no-frills affair – just how Neil likes ‘em.

The MusiCares Foundation, established in 1989 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, provides emergency financial assistance for musicians in need. Last year, the organization gave more than 2.5 million in direct financial aid to 2,000 recipients.

The MusiCares Person of the Year tribute dinner takes place annually in Los Angeles during Grammy week, and honors artists for both their contributions to music and their philanthropic efforts. Past recipients include Bono, Natalie Cole, Luciano Pavarotti, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and Stevie Wonder. In 2010, that artist was Neil Young.

A Low-Key Vibe

After a pair of opening promotional videos detailing MusiCares and Young’s own Bridge School Benefit events, the evening begins with John Fogerty and Keith Urban leading the house band on “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

It soon becomes clear that this will be no rowdy rock concert. The venue is a giant ballroom with an enormous stage, and the crowd is seated at round tables with white linens – expensive food and drink presumably at hand. It’s a benefit concert, after all. In fact, as the musical luminaries take the stage one after another, it starts to seem like the coolest, most mellow wedding reception you’ve never been to.

The performances throughout keep to this low-key vibe, and the tone is really set by that opening number. Fogerty sounds great on vocals, but a song like “Rockin’ in the Free World” is necessarily diminished in this polite setting. “Rockin’ in the Grammy Week Industry Party Venue,” maybe.

It’s with the second performance – Lady Antebellum’s slow and sweet take on “Only Love Can Break Your Heart – that the appeal of this night of performances becomes clear.

Neil Young’s songs have always had an essential portability. I don’t know the statistics, or if there even are statistics, but I’d guess that Young is among the most covered songwriters on the planet. His best songs have a kind of durable structural integrity, in the material sciences sense of the word.

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