Everybody’s Talkin’: A Tribute to Fred Neil
Fred Neil is not a household name, although everyone probably knows at least one of his songs. Neil was a Brill Building songwriter and an influential presence in the folk revival of the mid-1960’s. Between 1964 and 1967, Neil released three well-received album that garnered him a cult following. His song, “Everybody’s Talkin'” was a hit for Harry Nilsson when it was used as the theme for the movie Midnight Cowboy. The naturally reclusive Neil then retreated back to Florida where he devoted his energies to the Dolphin Project, an organization founded by Ric O’Barry (the Dolphin trainer from the TV show, Flipper), Steven Stills and Neil. Fred Neil continued to perform occasionally around Miami until his death in 2001 with most of those gigs being benefits for the Dolphin Project.
Fred Neil the musician is associated with the New York folk scene, but his heart was always in Florida. “Everybody’s Talkin'” speaks about going where “the weather suits my clothes.” “Bleecker and MacDougal” was the crossroads of the Greenwich Village folk scene, but Neil’s song by that name is all about longing to be back in Coconut Grove. It’s an obvious choice for the Miami based Y&T label to return some of that love with this tribute album.
Everybody’s Talkin’ is book-ended by versions of “The Dolphins”. Eric Anderson’s wistful version opens the set. It’s a reading of the tune that highlights the longing, searching and sadness in the lyric. The country blues rendition by Matthew Sabatella and Diane is still wistful and sad, but the vocal harmonies and instrumental flourishes give it a more hopeful vibe. It’s a subtle shift of emphasis that embodies the best of Neil’s songs. Of course, the centerpiece of the compilation has to be “Everybody’s Talkin'”. Keith Sykes give us a fine version. The sustained guitar lines quite literally underline the longings at the core of the song. Charlie Pickett’s take on “The Other Side of This Life” is the most energetic song on the disc. The Jefferson Airplane featured the song in their live sets, and Pickett channels that feeling with the late Johnny Salton contributing stinging lead guitar. Bobby Ingram’s rendition of “A Little Bit of Rain” has a timeless feel. The play between Bobby and Bryn’s voices makes me think of the classic country pairings like Tammy Wynette and George Jones.
While most of the songs on Everybody’s Talkin’ have that timeless quality, a few of the tunes are definitely artifacts of their time. “Dade County Jail” is an earnest issue song that is an echo of the earnest folk tunes sung by the Kingston Trio. “Handful of Gimme” also feels like a fly in amber. I guess it’s a fair representation of the man and his times, they just feel a little clunky in the flow of the album.
I’m glad that this compilation will bring attention to Fred Neil’s work. For the longest time, Neil’s records were hard to find and they were very late in getting the CD reissue. People who know of Fred, mostly know him from Nilsson or others doing his songs. So here we are introducing a new generation to Fred Neil by other folks doing his music. Fred would probably be fine with that. I know he’d be glad that proceeds from this tribute will benefit the Dolphin Project.