When Rootfire Editor, Dave Shiffman, came to me with the proposal of reviewing Reggaddiction’s cover album of Neil Young’s Harvest, something in the universe felt as if it weirdly aligned. Ten minutes before reading his email, I had just listened to a very interesting interview with Neil Young led by Conan O’Brien. Not only this, but Neil Young was a major part of my childhood, among other classic rock must-haves. In fact, I can remember the fact that one of the first few CDs that I ever put into my family’s stereo was Harvest. I clearly remember my mom and I discussing the lyrics of “Heart of Gold” at our kitchen table and her telling me to never lose mine.
All these years later, the CD is still in the stereo. However, with the Toronto-based reggae group’s release of Ganja Harvest, it might be time to change out that dusty CD and replace it with something more contemporary but just as timeless. Ganja Harvest adds not only zest, zeal, and irie vibes to each track, but it also captures an essence that impacts the listener’s ears and heart in such a way that stirs emotions all around. There’s no denying that there are some truly heartbreaking lyrics that Neil Young wrote within his songs, yet, when juxtaposed with the uplifting tunes of a reggae rhythm, there’s an underlying tone that reminds the listener that everything is going to be okay.
The opening track, “Out On The Weekend,” welcomes listeners to the album with a smooth fade-in of the iconic thumping of a single drum and harmonica, placing them right back in a familiar place. Upon listening to Reggaddiction’s rendition of the first few seconds of the album, I was instantly transported back to my childhood home, where my mom would grab my hand and invite me to sing along with her. The fact that this track features a duet of vocals by Fergus Hambleton and Hermina George places me even further into this memory, as this is what my mom and I would have sounded like in a perfect world.
The following track, “Harvest,” is where the creativity and uniqueness of Reggaddiction’s sound shine. The original song starts with an old-timey feel, like something from a Western movie, whereas Reggaddiction’s spin on the track opens up with an alarming and triumphant bang. With a steel drum and thrilling horns, it translates into a reggae tune flawlessly. The way Reggaddiction transformed a relatively simple song into a fun jam that gets fingers snapping and hips swaying is remarkable. Even long after the song ended, the catchy horns blared in my mind.
The next track, “A Man Needs a Maid,” exemplified some of the epicness that Neil Young brought into his album. I remember the roaring piano and symphony quite literally scaring me. Yet, the tranquil singing of Young always kept my ears perked enough to absorb the song into my mind. Before listening to the cover, I wondered how this would cross over to a different genre, let alone reggae. When the song kicked off, I could hear the laughter of singer Jimmy Reid, and that alone eased my mind and prepared me for quite the treat. Instead of trying to emulate the grand scale of the original song, the cover brings a different vibe. Utilizing a humming organ to do most of the instrumental work, it forms a wild new identity, creating something that doesn’t try to be something else.
Perhaps one of Neil Young’s most famous songs, the timeless “Heart of Gold,” seems impossible to create a new spin on without feeling overdone, but, Reggaddiction covers the classic gracefully. This fun cover keeps the spirit of “Heart of Gold” alive, all while taking it up a notch. The way it maintains the classic soul of the song while augmenting with the power of a full band boggles my mind in all the right ways. Never does the cover try to overpower the original, instead it compliments what is great about the song and adds a whole new savory flavor to the song.
Anytime a song opens up with the sounds of a milky bong rip, things are bound to get spicy, and “Are You Ready For The Country” does exactly that. What is already a fun tune is turned into something truly bouncy and bombastic. The wicked enthusiasm within the track took my ears on a pogo stick adventure through uneven country roads covered with chalky limestone. The wild roar of the horns creates an infectious and lively melody that supports the untamed vocal delivery of Lord Sassafras.
“Old Man” is another classic Neil Young song that conjures up vivid memories of hot New Jersey summers by the community center pool, where the song would play through tinny speakers. When this song came on, I was instantly thrown back to the poolside heat. The way Reggaddiction incorporates some very trippy synthesizer into the cover, I could practically smell the chlorine on my skin. The gentle sweeps of the guitar float around in the ear while the pop of the drum guides the song forward into a dreamlike soundscape.
After transcending through time, I found myself jamming out to the upbeat and groovy cover of “There’s A World.” The song continues the trippy synthesizer motif and seductively sneaks into the inner ear while the purr of vocals oozes along with the cello to create a spectacular track. Capturing the epic scale of the London Symphony Orchestra was no easy task, but in order to do this, Reggaddiction enlisted the help of Kyra Crilly to record strings along with studio stud Dubmatix to layer her recordings to create a truly unique sound.
The next couple tracks, “Alabama” and “The Needle and the Damage Done,” voice Neil Young’s frustrations with racism and drug abuse, and while his acute awareness of a crumbling society can’t be replicated, his message is certainly enforced within the power of these covers. In “Alabama,” a shredding guitar plays throughout along with a punching rhythm that strikes heavily. In “The Needle and the Damage Done,” the track plays almost like a church hymn, with its flailing organ and vocals that feel like a Sunday choir. As if this wasn’t powerful enough, the ripping saxophone solo pokes through at the two minute mark like a second round of dessert.
The final song, “Words (Between the Lines of Age,)” is a beautiful sign-off to a wonderful cover album and a testament of the work put into each and every song. Surely, anyone can take the words of Neil Young and slap a reggae beat behind it, but Oz Saunds, drummer and album producer, explained to Rootfire that translating the 11/4 timing of “Words” into a more reggaefied 4/4 timing didn’t come easy. However, it was probably his favorite to adapt, just due to how wildly different it was to recording a typical reggae song.
There is no way to sum up this album in just a few words. Reggaddiction turns Neil Young’s masterpiece album into a solid reggae gem where everything clicks together. From the opening track to the final fade out, Reggaddiction’s finesse and expertise shine through. Every track is faithful to Neil Young while infusing a reggae vibe that captures something truly special. Each listen unveils new layers of musicality, showcasing the meticulous attention to detail that Reggaddiction poured into this spectacular album.
Join Rootfire and Reggaddiction on Wednesday, June 14 at 8p ET for a Ganja Harvest Listening Party on the Rootfire channel on the Stationhead app!