Okay, okay – she may be Neil Young’s wife, but let me tell you something right now, boys and girls: Pegi Young’s new album Foul Deeds stands just fine on its own, thank you very much. With a voice that manages to sound both a little rough and a little sweet (and always real) at the same time, and the ability to either write some solid tunes or pull off covers that sound like she wrote them, Pegi Young is one solid, soulful talent. (And for all you absolute Rusties out there that just need to know: yes, ol’ Neil adds little touches of acoustic guitar and harmonica in a couple places, but don’t sweat it. This is Pegi’s album – and it’s good.)
Take, for instance, Young’s take on Lucinda Williams’ “Side Of The Road,” a song about the tug-of-war between connecting with someone else and potentially losing part of yourself in the process. On the original, when Williams sings “You wait in the car on the side of the road/Let me go and stand awhile” and assures her partner “If I stray away too far from you/Don’t go and try to find me/It doesn’t mean I don’t love you/It doesn’t mean I won’t come back”, it’s easy to envision her backing slowly away from the car, on the verge of spinning around and making a break for the puckerbrush, never to be seen again. There’s an undefined unsettledness with Lucinda that disappears in Pegi Young’s hands. She sounds cool and comfortable with things – and just needing to check in with herself for a minute, that’s all. She’s okay.
Ben Keith’s relationship with the Young family goes all the way back to the Harvest sessions when (as a member of Neil’s Stray Gators) he helped define and sculpt that album’s sound with his beautiful pedal steel work. On Foul Deeds, Keith’s contributions are just right: tasty touches of steel here (the Memphis-flavored “Pleasing To Me” and a lovely waltz with Pegi’s vocals on “Broken Vows”); Saturday-night dobro there (“Who Knew” and “Starting Over”); and a bit of B3 organ as needed. Other players on Foul Deeds include six-string vet Anthony Crawford, bassist Rick Rosas, drummers Phil Jones and Karl Himmel – and a Wurlitzer cameo by Spooner Oldham.
A very dry and immediate-sounding mix complements Young’s vocals – this gal needs no “Hall of the Mountain King” reverb to sound good. She can go cool bluesy on you (“Blue Sunday” aptly enough), get Donna Jean Godchaux-funky with it (the aforementioned “Pleasing To Me”), or sing a little hurt out (“Traveling”) and wear them all equally well.
Thinking about it, it is kind of cool that Neal and Pegi are husband and wife (it’d make for cool birthday sing-alongs, if nothing else), but that’s got little or nothing to do with this album. Foul Deeds belongs to Pegi Young and that’s that.