Earlier this week venerable music blog Aquarium Drunkard put up a simple post entitled J. Tillman Sings Tonight’s The Night, which contained the singer-songwriter and Fleet Foxes drummer covering Neil Young’s 1975 album in its entirety as a free download. While the mostly solo acoustic rendering of the deeply personal album, which was recorded shortly after the death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and Young’s roadie Bruce Berry, received mostly positive praise in the comments section, a number of commenters used the blank space to take shots at Tillman for his rendition.
While I don’t think a few bad apples should ruin what I think is a beautifully haunting take on the album, Tillman clearly felt he need to explain the impetus for covering Young’s classic album, and took the comments section himself to issue this statement…
Just wanted to clarify a few things for those of you who may be feeling like this was some kind of total disservice to an album that, I hope it’s obvious, is very important to me.
First, the covering of an album is rarely, if ever, predicated on a deficit in the original, (as is clearly the case here) it’s an expression of affection for the source material. This album has been an inspiration and comfort for me for a long time. Someone who’s relationship to music is solely listening to it may have a hard time understanding the impetus for “covering”, and I can understand why someone could see it as unnecessary/narcissistic, but, to me, performing and recording a song yourself can lend a whole new perspective into why you love it. I view as a natural extension.
Second, I was under no illusion that I was going to somehow improve or “one-up” the original. It’s a little ridiculous to even have to belabor that point, but it seems some of you are under the impression I’m some kind of ego-maniac as opposed to someone who is head-over-heels fanatical about my favorite songwriter.
All of these are first-take, raggedy demos that I felt were congruent with the spirit of the album. I certainly could have done some kind of official release with a band, or a string section, or some kind of radical re-imagining of the aesthetic, but I can’t imagine how over-wrought and terrible that would be. This felt honest to me.
Please just take this as what it is: A songwriter who some people like and some people don’t sharing his perspective on a monolithic album that changed his life. This in no way impedes on your ability to listen to and love “Tonight’s The Night”.
You can download the whole thing here, and decide for yourself.