Swedish singer Ida Sand decides to sing the songs of Neil Young for her latest ACT Music album “Young at Heart”. Even though I have come to admire her work and her voice over the years, I have the feeling that she could do much more better than this. Maybe it’s the repertoire? One listen to the Stevie Wonder song “Have A Talk With God” from her 2011 album “The Gospel Truth”or Stevie’s “Higher Ground” from her 2007 album “Meet Me Around Midnight” and the choice of who to cover seems pretty obvious. Her Gospel and Soul-drenched voice is much better suited to the 70s Soul stuff from Wonder, Bill Withers, or Nina Simone.
It doesn’t meant that I don’t cherish the Neil Young songbook; his songs are precious jewels no question about that but it seems they don’t bring out the best in Ida. She opens with “Cinnamon Girl” from Young’s 1969 debut album “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and has a first real highlight with “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” from his second album “After The Gold Rush” from 1970 where she can belt out the lyrics and show what she’s capable of. I also like her straight version of the beautiful “Harvest Moon” (my favorite Young song, from his 1992 LP of the same name; the definitive version is that by Cassandra Wilson, though). It has some subdued accompaniment by guitarist Ola Gustafsson, saxophonist Per Texas Johansson, and Jesper Nordenström on keys.
She gets very rocky on the Joni Mitchell penned “Woodstock” (the only non-Young song here) and does another straight version of “Birds”, also from Young’s second album. That album also featured the hit song “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, which is done here in a sweet version with Nils Landgren helping out on vocals and trombone and includes some spare, melancholic instrumentation with weeping guitar. A nice one! Ida writes in her notes for the album that “our countries have the same kind of climate and not seldom Swedish and Canadian culture have been described as “melancholic”. “Ohio”, from Young’s fourth album “Journey Through The Past”, becomes too strained here. I much prefer The Isley Brothers take from their 1971 LP “Givin’ It Back”.
Ida is back on track with a song that has been a part of her live show the last time I saw her in Berlin back in October, a very convincing and strong “Old Man” (also part of Lizz Wright‘s repertoire). “Helpless” has never touched me and even though Ida sounds great again on her version, the song remains bland and boring to me. “War Song”, again from “Harvest Moon”, gets a soulful facelift complete with seductive background vocals. Young’s biggest and only Number 1 hit, “Heart of Gold”, is missing here because Ida had already recorded it for her 2009 album “True Love”. Instead, she chooses another slow mover from “Harvest Moon”, the Country meets Gospel “One Of These Days”, perfect for her timbre and chops and her ability to get a story across. As is “Sea Of Madness”, the album’s closer, where she showcases her brilliant soulful voice again to full effect.