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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – In 1886, the nation of France gave to the United States a statue which was to be known as Liberty Enlightening the World. In 1912, the nation of Japan presented us with over 3000 cherry trees, to bring joy and beauty to our nations capitol. One hundred years later, the nations of Italy and Sweden presented us with yet another amazing gift, again designed to enlighten the world, and destined to bring joy and beauty to all who are fortunate enough to enjoy it. This gift comes to us in the form of one of my favorite CD’s of the year, the Music is Love compilation disc, honoring the music of rock legends Crosby, Stills Nash and Young in a way that has never been done before.
The impact that CSNY has had on the American culture for the last 40 years is not to be underestimated. They have been among our country’s most passionate and outspoken advocates for peace, for social equality, and for the needs of our nations children. At the same time, they have provided the world with a body of musical genius rivaled only, perhaps, by the Beatles themselves. I think the best testament to that comes in the liner notes of the Music is Love CD itself, written by the fantastic CSNY author, and uber-fan Dave Zimmer who penned, “More than 40 years ago, CSN&Y were looking inward, speaking out and writing songs that helped define a generation. Well, that generation grew up, as did the artists, but this connection and bond continued; then new generations discovered them, and much of the music ripened and gained fresh meaning with new causes and the passage of time. The strength of these newly recorded versions is a testament to the artistry of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as well as the special nature of their songs, which hold up beautifully when interpreted and reimagined by a varied roster of artists that range across decades, musical genres and different parts of the globe: from California, Texas and New York to Dublin, Liverpool and Australia; from traditional folkies and alternative rockers to gifted guitarists and bluegrass pickers; as well as wonderfully amazing vocalists, from yesterday and today.”
It is against the background of this breathtaking catalog of music, that three amazing folks, Peter Holmstedt, Ermanno Labianca, and Francesco Lucarelli, first formulated the idea of gathering together some of the most amazing musicians on the planet to provide their own renditions of these classic songs, and what they managed to put together has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. It’s hard to know just where to begin, so one might as well begin, well, at the beginning…with the fantastic version of the Buffalo Springfield Classic “For What It’s Worth,” performed in rich, warm blues fashion by Ron Lasalle. The lush lyrical brilliance and acoustic guitar on “Helplessly Hoping” was laid down by none other than the “ruby-throated sparrow,” herself, Miss Judy Collins, and you can just feel the love she has for the music that she has known since those seminal days in 1969 when the band first came into existence. Still having barely put a dent into the first of the 2-CD set, we get an unreal version of the Springfield Classic “Bluebird,” performed in multi-part harmony by Sugarcane Jane, complete with a country-rock flair accented by a few perfectly placed banjo licks. Upbeat and fun we are treated to a really cool version of “You Don’t Have to Cry,” the first CSN song ever performed, in Joni Mitchell’s kitchen, performed by Sonny Mone. Deep soulful vocals by the very popular band Venice anchor the title track of the Neil Young “After the Gold Rush” album in classic fashion, and that’s bracketed by Stephen Stills own daughter Jennifer doing one of the most unique and chilling versions of “Love the One You’re With” that I’ve ever heard. I could go on, but if I don’t take you over to the second disc soon, we’re sure to run out of space. Really though, disc one has so much more then that to enjoy.
Heading over to disc two you realize that this truly had to be a two disc set. There is no “filler material” here and if anything, disc two is even stronger. Famed musician Willie Nile (who can tell me the unique significance of that name to this disc) has toured with everyone from The Who to Bruce Springsteen and his rock and roll chops aren’t wasted as he kicks off the second disc with Neil Young’s “Rocking in the Free World.” One of the most unique tunes on the disc is a haunting version of Young’s Cortez the Killer, laid down by Carrie Rodruigez, which is very reminiscent of a young Alanis Morrisette. I think my personal favorite on this one was a version of a song I’ve always liked called “Thrasher,” from Neil’s Rust Never Sleeps Album. I was surprised to see it on a tribute CD since it has some odd connotations that only the true fans know about, but it was incredibly cool, performed by Andy Hill and Renee Safier with a little rockabilly flair and a 12 string guitar just as on the original. The final track on the set is the title track “Music is Love,” brilliantly laid down by Ian McNabb. By the time you get to that track, you’re sure to be ready to go right back to the beginning and listen to it a few more times. I know it took me, perhaps five or six listens, to fully understand the sheer depth and brilliance of each and every one of the individual contributions.
As a long term CSNY fan, this music has truly been the soundtrack of my life. From the days back in middle school when I first listened to the CSN debut album, no band has ever really given me the same sense of belonging as these guys have. Over the years, I’ve had the joy of seeing them in concert close to a hundred times in various permutations, and even the privilege of getting to know them personally. With that sense of “ownership” I never thought I would view with anything but suspicion an attempt to “cover” their music – but I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried. This compilation has given me a true sense of warmth and spirit that I can’t really describe. In a sense, it’s like eating the last chocolate in the box, and then realizing that there’s another whol layer underneath that you haven’t even tasted yet. My friends, you need to taste this disc, sooner rather than later. My recommendation is that you don’t order one, because if you do, it won’t be long before you’ve given away your only copy. No if I were you, I would order 4 or 5 today, keep one, and pass the others along as the perfect holiday gift for those you love so that they too can share the muse.
You can buy them on Amazon by clicking this link. http://www.amazon.com/Music-Love-Singer-Songwriters-Tribute-CSN/dp/B009OWJQBE
by Steve Levine