Various Artists

Borrowed Tunes: A Tribute to Neil Young

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The producers of the 35-artist, Canada-only compilation Borrowed Tunes were fighting a losing battle right from the start. First and foremost was the fact that a Neil Young tribute had already been done, and done well, five years earlier with Caroline Records' The Bridge. Second, the compilers insisted on taking an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that resulted in a product twice as long as necessary; listening to two and a half hours of even the best of cover tunes is a daunting task. Finally, too many of the participants, while no doubt earnest in their appreciation for Young, simply lack a compelling personality of their own. It's not surprising, then, that Borrowed Tunes: A Tribute to Neil Young ends up a mixed bag. You can't argue with Cowboy Junkies' mesmerizing take on "Tired Eyes," wherein Margo Timmins and company find beauty in the ugliest of Young's harrowing tales, or with Jann Arden, whose gracefully sung version of "Birds" retains all the hushed heartbreak of the original. But more often, the music here is as limp and lifeless as Young's is vivid. Toronto bluesman David Wilcox (not to be confused with the American singer/songwriter of the same name) removes all the intimacy from "Transformer Man," Lawrence Gowan emphasizes the worst MOR-ish aspects of "Heart of Gold," and popsters Rose Chronicles' take on "Old Man" is just plain mediocre, thanks to Kristy Thirsk's shrill vocals. Fans of Young aren't missing much if they skip this hard-to-find two-disc package, but devotees of individual artists here might want the set for its otherwise unavailable rarities. (Of particular note is the low-key but pleasant rendition of Buffalo Springfield's "Burned" by Chocolatey, a one-off outfit made up of the Lilac Time's Steve Duffy and two members of Barenaked Ladies, several years before they hit it big in the United States.)

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