Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last six months or so, it has been impossible to not hear some of the revelations about musician Neil Young. Last summer, he released his “Homegrown” album, and thanks to some heavy radio airplay, we discovered the single “Try,” a vintage throw-back he had written several decades ago, and only now had finally recorded and shared with his legions of fans. Shortly afterwards, Young would make national headlines when filing a lawsuit against the US President over the unauthorized use of his music at campaign rallies; a suit that has since been dropped. And just last week, he made the headlines again with news of selling half of the ownership rights to his vast and entire music back catalog.
Last October, rising US singer-songwriter Katie Pruitt (who recently collaborated with Donovan Woods) staked her claim on the folk-roots genre with the release of a Double A-Single featuring covers of two Neil Young tracks, “Ohio,” and “After the Gold Rush.” Both are excellent interpretations of these popular hits, and if you have not yet had the pleasure of hearing them, I highly recommend seeking them out. But for right now, here in early 2021, we are excited about “Birds,” a beautiful stripped-down collection of six Neil Young covers from JUNO-nominated singer Kandle (Osborne) and acclaimed violinist Kendel (Carson).
We recently featured “Christmas Mourn,” the holiday single shared by Kandle over the holidays, and learned of her strong friendship with Kendel, who added harmonies on the song. Kendel Carson, of course, is no stranger to the Canadian music scene, well-known as part of Canadian trio Belle Starr, and more recently for her work with Alan Doyle, both in the studio and as part of his touring band. To round out the three-part harmonies discovered on “Christmas Mourn,” Kandle once again calls upon another good friend, Debra-Jean Creelman (Mother Mother), to add her talents to this project. The trio also entrust engineering duties to Dave Genn, who has worked previously with Neil Osborne – Kandle’s famous father – and his band, Vancouver, BC alt-rockers 54-40. “We wanted to be somewhere else for a spell and it was granted by whiskey, reverb and 6 beautiful, dark tunes from the early 70s,” Kandle shares. “We boarded his silver spaceship looking for respite from the pandemic.”
Those who appreciate the early works of Neil Young will feel right at home with the selections made by Kandle and Kendel for this compilation; offering three tracks from “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” (1969), two from “After the Goldrush” (1970), and one from “Harvest” (1972). Indeed, Kandle’s familiarity with these incredibly revered albums really comes as no surprise, having collaborated with some of Canada’s finest songwriters, a list that includes names such as Sam Roberts, Beatrice Martin, Peter Dreimanis (July Talk) and Devon Portielje (Half Moon Run). It also does not hurt to have grown up exposed to the music industry, thanks to her rock star father, which has provided her artistry with a definite unique insight.
With this EP, and with her friends at her side, Kandle brings a seasoned performance to every line, every word of these legendary Canadian songs, channeling over a decade of touring the globe into contemporary folk music that is familiar, yet undeniably her own. Go ahead and soak up the light, breezy sounds that accompany “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” before being dazzled by Kendel’s mastery of the fiddle, and those amazing three-part harmonies. Proceed into both “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Needle and the Damage Done,” and marvel at these fully stripped versions, again, with the signature harmonies and violin drawing so much out of these classic songs.
The title track truly allows the voices to shine, the instrumentation minimal, and the finish having such timeless appeal – this is a 2021 cover version, but could easily pre-date the original 1970 release. Ditto for their interpretation of “Down by the River,” which does not stray too far from what our ears shall accept as true to form, yet is made distinctively their own through haunted vocals and somber tones. And in my opinion, the best track is saved until last, with a simply outstanding rendition of the 1969 classic, “Running Dry.” Everything is perfect. Think of the most powerful offerings from, say, The Civil Wars, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from here. The pace – amazing. The tone – phenomenal. There is an emotional depth perpetually present, yet it still jumps out to caress and comfort you, courtesy of Kendel’s heartfelt strings. Making her fiddle truly cry during the solo, Kendel’s remarkable skills will rock you to your core. A fabulous conclusion to this stunning EP, this collection of timeless songs that inspire hopes and dreams of only good things coming our way in 2021.