REVIEW: Greg Hoy & The Boys — Old Man and the Cinnamon Girl (EP)
Old Man and the Cinnamon Girl is an interesting confection from longtime Californian singer/songwriter and guitarist Greg Hoy. The four Neil Young songs he’s picked to cover on this release will not surprise anyone, for the most part, but the way he tackles the more well-known tracks will give listeners a much needed kick in the pants. He isn’t content to regurgitate overly familiar arrangements anyone over the age of thirty has likely heard thousands of times before encountering Hoy’s release. It elevates Hoy’s Old Man and the Cinnamon Girl out of the realm of pure covers release into the area of artistic reinterpretation.
The crowning touch on his covers is the presence of some choice Clyde Stubblefield drum tracks. Hoy bought these tracks from a collector and structures much of the release around the onetime James Brown band member’s playing rather than pursuing straight-ahead covers. His effect on the music is obvious from the first. Stubblefield’s playing transforms “Old Man” from an acoustic shuffle into a funk laced arrangement skillfully retaining much of the original. The electric guitar contributions are low-key but add color to the song.
The vocal phrasing is respectful of the original. It doesn’t make a huge effort, however, to mimic Young — it seems more important that he approximates the spirit of Neil’s singing, echo its vocal melody, than reproducing a note for note rendition for modern audiences. The same aesthetic governs his cover of “Cinnamon Girl”. I love the vibe he latches onto from the outset and how it manages to capture a lot of the loose amble of the original with a different sound.
He meets important benchmarks during the song, however. I believe Young fans would revolt or outright reject any cover of “Cinnamon Girl” that cuts out the iconic guitar break during the song’s second part. Hoy doesn’t let us down. His take on “Cinnamon Girl” is, overall, an infectious and inventive re-envisioning of a rock classic. Hoy tones down the rock aspects of the song, but it nonetheless retains audible power.
“Needle and the Damage Done” is a dyed in the wool folk tune, ala Bob Dylan, in its original incarnation. Stubblefield’s drumming, however, transforms its trajectory without ever shedding its spirit. The most attention grabbing aspect of the track for me is the vocal. It seems to often come across at a half-mumble but it’s obvious Hoy aims to achieve specific effects. It casts a hazy mood over the song without ever rendering it diffuse or indistinct.
He brings the EP to an end with “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?” Hoy decides to try this song on in a much more direct fashion than the previous three and resurrects this obscure cut from 1985’s Old Ways album. He comes across every bit as comfortable here as earlier and this unexpected turn is a strong way to close Old Man and the Cinnamon Girl. It may not change the world, but Greg Hoy’s four covers provide more surprises than many much longer collections.