Friday, April 05, 2013

Puss N Boots--Norah Jones, Catherine Popper, and Sasha Dobson--do Neil Young's "Down By the River" at Bell House.

During my last year of law school I bought Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I knew of Young from Buffalo Springfield, a group I liked for their easy, country influenced rock. But when I put Everybody Knows on, I knew I had, if you'll forgive the obvious, a horse of a different color. The first two cuts, "Cinnamon Girl" and the title cut, could have been Springfield songs. They're lively, and the second, despite its despairing title (actually the lament of a homesick Canadian), has a sweet country lilt. But they both have an edge I hadn't heard on most Springfield songs. The third cut, "Round & Round (It Won't Be Long)" has a nursery rhyme cadence but the lyrics are truly despairing.

The final cut on the first side, "Down By the River," was for me a mindblower. It starts with some nervous guitar chattering while Billy Talbot's bass provides an ominous counterpoint, then Young's keening voice sings what at first seem reassuring words--"Be on my side, I'll be on your side; there is no reason for you to hide"--in a precatory minor key, but after a few more lines this resolves into the chorus in a crashing major: "Down by the river, I shot my baby" (complete lyrics are here). After the first verse and chorus, there's a long bridge in which Young's and Danny Whitten's guitars exchange staccato notes, like a couple having an extended quarrel. The second verse has some words of existential angst that hint at a motive for the violent act: "This much madness is too much sorrow; it's impossible to make it today." After the second verse and chorus comes another long guitar break, a little more intricate than the first, then comes a repeat of the first verse and chorus, and fade out. Hear it here.

Thanks again to Eliot Wagner I have the video at the top of this post, of Puss N Boots, a trio consisting of Norah Jones on guitar and lead vocal, Catherine Popper on bass and harmony vocals, and Sasha Dobson on drums and harmony vocals, doing "Down By the River" at The Bell House, my favorite Brooklyn rock venue. While I can't say this cover cuts the original, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Having the solo guitar, Jones has to do double duty, which she does well by stretching some of the notes beyond the staccato, while Popper's bass fills in with some lively interplay. Jones's sultry voice imparts to the lyrics less of an angst-ridden and more of a world-weary quality. Like all recorded songs that end in fadeouts, there's the question of how to end it in live performance. Puss N Boots just ends it, which seems appropriate to me.

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