For someone with a highly limited music budget, tribute albums can be a source of great anxiety. They always have great potential — covering another artist’s material is a chance for a musician to both pay homage to their roots and at the same time expand upon the original message. Sometimes this process is transcendent, sometimes bizarre. But when this genre burns you, it burns you bad.
American Laundromat Records, a quirky label based out of Stonington, CT, has embraced the ever risky tribute album as its raison d’etre, working with some of the country’s best performers on covers of acts like The Pixies and The Cure. These albums always have a certain amount of levity to them, and it is clear the artists who sign on are doing it for fun.
But with their latest release, Joe Spadaro, the label’s founder, took the project in a more serious direction. Expanding the meaning of tribute, he dedicated Cinnamon Girl to his mother who recently passed away from breast cancer. Compiling an impressive cast of female musicians (including Lori McKenna, Britta Phillips, and the Watson Twins), he put together this double CD of Neil Young’s music to raise money for Vermont based Casting for Recovery. The profits from the album will go towards hosting fly-fishing weekends for women affected by breast cancer, providing them with a relaxing weekend and banishing the sense of isolation that can accompany a life threatening illness.
Musically, the album is a good listen. Neil Young should be proud. None of the tracks fall flat, and a few of them are real gems. Here are two of my favorites. The first, by New England native Tonya Donelly, is a thoughtful interpretation of “Heart of Gold” that serves as a theme song for the albums philanthropic mission. The second, a moody rendition of “Down by the River,” is probably the best thing I’ve heard out of Jill Sobule in years.
Even without the charitable aspect, the album is a worthwhile purchase. But given its deeper mission, Cinnamon Girl is a perfect gift for anyone whose life has been touched by breast cancer.
Albums available at