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Music Review: The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition (2CD)

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Over the course of his long and legendary career, Neil Young has supported a wide variety of political and social causes, lending both his music and famous name to everything from the annual Farm-Aid benefit shows to his work on the eco-friendly, energy efficient Linc-Volt automobile.

But of all of these, the cause that is closest to Neil Young’s heart remains his work with the Bridge School. His ongoing involvement with the Bridge is also a family affair. Neil’s wife Pegi sits on the Bridge School’s board of directors, and his son Ben is one of the greatest successes of the Bridge School’s alternative approach to education for the physically and verbally challenged.

For the past twenty five years, Neil Young has headlined the annual Bridge benefit shows held at the Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View, CA. In addition to being the site of several of his own greatest performances, Neil Young’s name has also drawn some of rock’s biggest and best to the yearly shows.

Over the years, the Bridge School benefit shows have included a list of Neil’s famous friends that reads like a who’s who of rock and roll history. Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Elton John, The Who, Pearl Jam, Radiohead and last year’s improbable Buffalo Springfield reunion are just a few of those who have offered up the musical fireworks in support of the Bridge.

Some of the greatest of these history making performances have now been captured on The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition, a 2-CD collection out next week from Neil’s longtime record label, Reprise. There is also a companion 3-DVD collection, that features additional performances not heard on the CD, making both of these essential purchases. Never let it be said that Neil Young is one to let a good marketing opportunity pass him by.

In addition to all of the big classic rock guns, there are also a number of great performances from country greats like Willie Nelson (“The Great Divide”) and lesser known critics darlings like Gillian Welch (“The Way It Will Be”), Fleet Foxes (“Blue Ridge Mountain”) and Sonic Youth (“Rain On Tin”). Even legendary pop great Tony Bennett gets into the act here, turning in a stellar sounding take on “Maybe This Time.”

Reflecting the mainly acoustic format of these shows, some of the best stuff to be found here is also the quietest, including the pastoral harmonies of Fleet Foxes on “Blue Ridge Mountain” and Band of Horses’ lovely sounding “Marry Song.” Bruce Springsteen’s haunting, dirge-like acoustic version of “Born In The USA” is another highlight of this collection, showing a darker lyrical side to a song most often thought of as a stadium-rock anthem.

But that doesn’t mean that rock and roll gets pushed to the side altogether. To that end, Metallica’s acoustic rendering of “Disposable Heroes” proves that you don’t always need the amps cranked up to eleven to bang your head. Elton John and Leon Russell’s “A Dream Come True” also proves itself a worthy showcase for two of rock and roll’s finest, if somewhat unsung honky-tonk piano players.

Nils Lofgren’s great cover of the Beau Brummels classic “Cry Just A Little” provides the rock history lesson here. Not to mention some great playing from the underrated guitarist for both Springsteen’s E Street Band, and occasionally for Neil Young himself.

Of course, some of the best moments to be found on The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition come courtesy of Mr. Young. These include a version of “Love And Only Love” with Crazy Horse that although played acoustic, rocks nearly as hard as the version on their classic album Ragged Glory. Neil also lends a hand on CSNY’s “Deja Vu” and R.E.M.’s beautifully haunting “Country Feedback.”

The DVD companion to the CD set also features performances not heard here from David Bowie, Patti Smith and others. Looks like Neil Young has gotten his hands into my wallet again. But since it’s for a great cause this time, I wont begrudge the man too much.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Gold

    Very interesting read. I have to go find a couple of my old Neil Young records and chuck them on after reading this.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Gold. I think you’ll like this one too.

    -Glen