Jesse Jarnow

“harvest moon” – cassandra wilson

“Harvest Moon” – Cassandra Wilson
from New Moon Daughter (1995)
released by Blue Note (buy)

(File expires on April 6th.)

A friend sent this to me very late at night over the weekend (thanks!), and it’s made me happy continuously since then. It’s not seasonal, forgive me, but Cassandra Wilson’s version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” is the most luminescent bauble of a recording I’ve heard in recent memory. It’s long been one of my favorite Young songs, mostly because of its perfect melody, though I’ve always had to get by the semi-hokey Harvest Moon-era production.

Craig Street’s setting for Wilson transmogrifies the song from a campfire strum to a transcendent tone poem of chirping crickets (or a fine simulation), spare ambient percussion, a bowed bass, and — I think — a metallic dobro. There is a perfectly dulcet acoustic guitar lurking there, too, and mixed quite presently, at that. Given the Daniel Lanois-like weirdness of the rest of the voices, though, I didn’t notice it until giving the song a close listen. That’s a good thing, I’m pretty sure. All of these effects subliminally trace the changes, liberating the melody to drift dreamily.

What’s funny and unexpected is that, despite Young’s traditional Nashville-style backing, it’s Wilson’s avant-garde rearrangement that makes the song feel timeless and mysterious to me, like it was lifted from a 78 by a lost chanteuse who recorded four sides in an Oklahoma hotel room sometime between the World Wars. And that’s not to diss Neil Young’s version, ’cause it’s real purdy. But, this…

I vaguely remember my friend Paul playing me an Elliot Smith rendition of this tune back in college. Something to look for another day…

1 Comment

  1. Alex says: - reply

    Any way you can repost this? Just discovered your blog and I love Neil and Cassandra.
    Is there anywhere else to DL it?