It’s 23 years since Iain Matthews topped the charts with his cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’ and he returns to the iconic festival now with The Woodstock Album, a covers concept album on which he and the band reinterpret songs from several of the artists who were on the bill. Joe Cocker provides the launch pad with a swaying accordion melody (as opposed to organ) and acoustic guitar leading off ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, which, featuring a repeated drone-like guitar phrase, is a far folksier interpretation than Joe Cocker’s big-lunged bombastic assault.
Totally reworking the song, Creedence’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’ is brilliantly transformed into a swampy slow burn gospel blues while, in similar musical mood, piano now bedrocks Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’, the last song played at the festival around 11am Monday morning to a greatly depleted crowd. Perhaps not one of the better known choices, CS&N’s setlist yields a fingerpicked faithful ‘4+20’ from Déjà vu, capturing the weariness of a man alone and suicidal. The jazz backbone of Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll’s recording of ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ can still be traced, but again this is reworked in slower, bluesier mood minus any of the psychedelic trappings and far closer to the Dylan and The Band original, which, of course, the latter played at the festival.
Canned Heat’s good time blues ‘Goin’ Up The Country ‘is a natural for the Doug Sahm zydeco-styled shuffle that appears here, wisely not attempting to match the falsetto vocals, while the Grateful Dead’s dusty country ‘High Time’ now sounds like a Lennon ballad swayer.
Moving on, it would be hard to musically reassemble Country Joe and The Fish’s anti-Vietnam protest ‘Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag’, so instead there’s a handclaps and stomps energy instead, followed by a brief snatch of ‘Get Together’ (90 seconds as opposed to Richie Havens’s four minutes) that takes its inspiration from the original version by The Youngbloods.
Dialling down the Latin and accentuating the bluesier elements, Santana’s ‘Evil Ways’ gets a smouldering groove to be followed by a faithful reading of Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ and a countrified shuffle rework of Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘Everyday People’. I’m not wholly persuaded their slightly plodding version of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ ‘Spinning Wheel’ really works, but they close up in fine form with a fine, strummed take on The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Darlin’ Be Home Soon’, to my mind John Sebastian’s finest hour, and, taken at a much slower, bluesier pace, The Who’s set-closer, ‘My Generation’.
It’s a pity they couldn’t find room to tackle Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ or reinvent ‘Somebody To Love’ and I’d have loved to hear what they might have done with the Sha Na Na set, but otherwise this is both a great tribute and a mighty fine covers set in its own right.
Label website: https://musthavemusic.bandcamp.com/album/the-woodstock-album
‘I Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die Rag’: official lyric video: