Veda Hille makes a tribute to two greats on Young Saint Marie

Young Saint Marie (Veda Hille/Ape)

It might not be obvious, but Veda Hille has a lot in common with Buffy Sainte-Marie and Neil Young, whose songs she covers here. There’s something of Sainte-Marie’s stridency and spookiness in Hille’s voice, although, fortunately, little of the ’60s folk icon’s boulevard-wide vibrato; as for Young, Hille shares with the mage of Omemee an ability to wring great poignancy from hymnal chords and simple tunes.

So the bones of a great collaboration were there when CBC producer Denise Ball asked Hille to star in the 2007 tribute to Sainte-Marie from which the first half of this CD is taken—and for the most part the singer-pianist and the late, lamented CBC Radio Orchestra deliver.

Most of the fireworks, admittedly, come courtesy of arranger Giorgio Magnanensi, who exhumes Aaron Copland on Sainte-Marie’s “Cripple Creek” and crafts otherworldly orchestral support for Hille’s keening vocal on “Little Wheel Spin and Spin”.

The studio versions of Neil Young songs that follow are sturdier and simpler, featuring as they do a much smaller cast—although there are still 14 players involved, including members of Standing Wave, the Turning Point Ensemble, and Hille’s own Swell Band. One might question some of the choices: Hille’s version of “A Man Needs a Maid” adds little to the original beyond the predictable gender shift, and “Transformer Man”, however charmingly sung it is here, simply isn’t a very good song. But the string-driven rift in space and time that introduces Hille’s gripping take on “Cortez the Killer” suggests that Magnanensi might also have something in common with ol’ Neil—and with his iconic guitar, Old Black, too.