San Francisco based singer/songwriter and musician Greg Hoy has built a name for himself over the last decade plus performing on his own and recording with top-flight music figures such as Sylvia Massy, legendary producer Steve Albini, and John Vanderslice, among others. He completed a 25 date United States tour in the fall of 2021 for his most recent full-length release entitled Cacophony but returns in short order with his new EP release Old Man and the Cinnamon Girl. The four song release covers three wildly popular songs from Neil Young’s multi-decade career and picks a fourth lesser-known Young song to complete the collection.
“Old Man” kicks things off with some especially tasty Clyde Stubblefield drumming. Hoy incorporates three drum tracks from the late former drummer for James Brown into three songs on this release and the results are potent. He lays down a seemingly improbable groove for this track. Hoy, however, shows considerable compositional ingenuity weaving Young’s original around this pattern without losing any of the magic that makes the songwriting so special. Superb production, as well, helps highlight the changes Hoy makes without ever losing an even-handed sense of balance for all things. The other key track on the EP is his rendition of “Cinnamon Girl”.
It doesn’t rate up there with some of the other great guitar songs, i.e. “Purple Haze”, “Satisfaction”, et al, but Young’s hoary rocker is still a popular concert and radio staple. It is likely one of his most identifiable songs for casual fans. Hoy blows a lot of it up, however, while still keeping behind enough of the edifice that listeners don’t mistake it for another song altogether. Stubblefield’s drums are really appropriate here and the steady riffing achieves its own unusual power. It will be a delightful surprise for anyone expecting failure.
“The Needle and the Damage Done” is the second of Old Man and the Cinnamon Girl’s two songs drawn from 1972’s Harvest album. He forsakes the pure acoustic sound of the classic version in favor of a more diffuse yet atmospheric take on the song de-emphasizing the clear vocals of Young’s original. It will be a mixed success for listeners familiar with the Harvest version and later live performances. “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?” ends Old Man and the Cinnamon Girl with something much different than its predecessors. The harp playing, acoustic guitar, and vocals offer listeners a much more literal interpretation of Young’s style than any of the earlier songs and stands out for that reason.
It stands out, as well, thanks to his unquestionable fundamentals. You can slot musicians and songwriters such as Hoy into any role and they will make it their own. He has made these four Neil Young songs included on the EP his own without turning his back on the originals. Old Man and the Cinnamon Girl never sounds slapped together or rushed; instead, it comes across as a respectful and simpatico tribute to one of popular music’s finest songwriters. As artistic models go, he could do a lot worse.
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