The sheer number and calibre of artists represented on this triple-record or 5 CD tribute is a reflection of the high esteem Neal Casal was held in the music community. He was a prolific artist, having completed 14 solo albums and being an integral part of many others including The Chris Robinson Band, Circles Around The Sun, Hazy Malaise, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Hard Working Americans, and several others.
Casal’s work was always singularly melodic, and never less than interesting. It’s little wonder that so many have come forward to pay tribute. Steve Earle and the Dukes, Norah Jones, Dori Freeman, Teddy Thompson, Johnathan Wilson, Hiss Golden Messenger, Leslie Mendelson, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Susan Tedeschi, and Derek Trucks are among some of the hugely talented and musically diverse cast adding significantly to the rich source material.
Proceeds from the sales of the album will go to the Neal Casal Music Foundation, which provides musical instruments and lessons to students in New Jersey and New York state schools where Casal was born and raised, and appropriately given the sad nature of his passing to mental health charities including MusiCares and Backline.
Given the quality of the artists involved, it’s always a hugely enjoyable and resounding affirmation of the standard of Neal’s writing that shines through. Neal Casal didn’t write a bad song, and each track presented here has its own distinctive merits. That said, some do stand out.
Steve Earle’s instantly recognisable rasp adds grit to the title track, while Dori Freeman’s delightful interpretation of ‘Sweeten The Distance’ – the title track of Casal’s last studio album – complete with Teddy Thompson on backing vocals is bang on the money.
Vetiver’s cover of ‘White Fence Round House’ has a lot riding on it, as it is one of Neal’s most acclaimed and requested songs. Leslie Mendelson is an artist that, much to my shame, I have only recently discovered and she delivers a beautiful version of ‘Feel No Pain’.
Given that so much of Neal’s career was spent in collaboration with other artists, it’s nice to see that ethos reflected in the album, with a number of gifted individuals aligning their considerable talents to produce joint tributes.
Despite the extent of his work, and the undoubted quality of it, there is a general consensus that Neal never really got the recognition or public attention that his artistry truly deserved. Hopefully, this album will go some way to helping redress that huge oversight.
With 41 cuts – both well known and some deeper into Casal’s catalogue – this is a hugely impressive tribute, and no less than the highly talented and much-missed star deserves. Hopefully, those will who buy it, will have their interest in the superlative music on display here piqued and they will seek out the originals.
To do so is highly recommended.