Ida Sand ‘Young at Heart’ (ACT) 2/5

ida-sandAn album of Canadian folk-rocker Neil Young covers may not be the most obvious of releases, even for Swedish vocalist/pianist Ida Sand. “They often say that the mentality of Sweden and Canada are quite similar to each other. Our countries have the same kind of climate and not seldom Swedish and Canadian culture have been described as melancholic.” Sand continues; “Neil Young has been one of the greatest, most productive, influential lyricists and musicians of our time.” I couldn’t agree more. However, if you’re going to make an album covering the songs of one of the greatest singer/songwriters of all time, surely there are only two ways to approach this. Either record the songs in a completely different vein, taking a few risks along the way, or stick close to the original sentiment and style of the song, but perform it so well that it sends shivers down the listener’s spine. “Young at Heart” does neither of the above. It is a little confusing as to why this album has been released on the excellent ACT label. Yes they release a heady mix of innovative, eclectic music, but for me, this just doesn’t seem to sit well with the label’s ethos. Anyway, back to the music on the album. There’s no argument here that Ida Sand has a lovely voice. Her phrasing is subtle and her tone can be gorgeously soulful. But this is why I feel this recording doesn’t really work. Sand’s voice just isn’t that well suited to the style of songs she’s performing here. It’s as if there’s a jazz/soul singer waiting to burst out from within, but is too constrained by the nature of the songs. Sand’s interpretations of these 13 Neil Young classics (well, 12 NY plus 1 Joni Mitchell actually) are pretty close to the originals in many ways. She may have purposefully tried in a commendable way to keep the essence of the music intact and the structure remains close to the originals in most cases, resulting in little deviation or innovation. The band around Ida Sand are, like the singer herself, more than capable, but it’s all kept very “nice and easy to listen to” and very “pleasantly comfortable.” Perhaps this is partly due to the song choices. Sand has chosen some of Neil Young’s most beautiful and well-respected numbers here, including “Birds”, “Harvest Moon”, “Old Man”, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Helpless”… and in many ways one can’t argue with that. Sand further comments; “Neil Young has enriched the music world by putting words and melodies to the human and existential questions that we all share. To me, that has been the traction of this project, to capture the melancholy which usually is a strong perimeter of my DNA too.” And therein lies an issue I have with the song choices. If it’s melancholy she wants to capture, then look no further than the three seminal mid 70’s albums released by Young; “Tonight’s the Night”, “On the Beach” and “Time Fades Away”. But alas there’s not one song taken from these albums. No “Ambulance Blues” or “Journey through the Past” to be heard here. It’s all just too middle of the road. That said, it is nicely produced and there are songs on “Young at Heart” that really do work, especially Sand’s soulful take on “Harvest Moon”‘ and the more free-flowing, upbeat “Woodstock” and “Sea of Madness”. The intimate feel to the recording is largely driven by the subtlety employed by the excellent musicians involved, including Ola Gustaffson on guitars and Dan Berglund on acoustic bass. Christer Jansson on drums and Jesper Nordenstrom on keys complete the line-up, and they are joined by various guests throughout the recording. Whilst I’m sure that Ida Sand’s motivation for making this album is undoubtedly commendable, for this listener, I’m afraid it just doesn’t hit the spot.

Mike Gates