Credit the producers of this long-overdue tribute to seminal folksinger Fred Neil with having the wherewithal to assemble a cast of like-minded admirers for an album that benefits the Dolphin Project, an organization that Neil himself helped found. A worthy cause is always a nice additive when the music measures up on its own.
Neil, a denizen of Greenwich Village during its halcyon days of the early '60s folk revival, eventually moved to Coconut Grove and helped establish a new musical beachhead there soon after. A handful of his songs eventually became standards for other artists -- "Everybody's Talkin' was recorded by Nilsson and became an indelible part of the soundtrack for the film "Midnight Cowboy," "The Dolphins" would become a theme song of sorts for the Green Peace movement and "The Other Side of This Life" found its way into the repertoire of the Jefferson Airplane no less.
That impressive legacy is well tapped on this 14-song set, and while a handful of influential national artists - Rodney Crowell and Eric Andersen chief among them - are among the participants, the contributors are mostly made up of South Florida artists. Keith Sykes' "Everybody's Talkin' mostly follows the template of the original arrangement, as does Charlie Pickett's "The Other Side of This Life," which borrows heavily from the Airplane's read. Sykes succeeds at his effort, and while the band is superb on the latter, Pickett's moribund vocal adds a dead weight to an otherwise exhilarating performance.
The late Vince Martin, who died earlier this year, and Bobby Ingram were friends of Neil's, and it's appropriate that they take part, but the real star of this project is South Florida singer Diane Ward, who's wisely given two opportunities to shine. Her duet with Jack Shawde on "Everything Happens," and her starring role in the reprise of "The Dolphins," a song that opens and closes the set, shows her to be a vocalist of exceptional ability and one, who like Neil, deserves to command a national stage.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles.