Although my CDs are still dancin’ across the proverbial waters, sans galleons and guns, I’ve been enjoying the archival Way Down in the Rust Bucket live set from Neil Young and Crazy Horse thanks to the high-resolution files that come with the purchase via the Greedy Hand store. Long-time fans who planted trees and/or were branches and leaves on the Human Highway and/or Rust List email groups should be familiar with the Nov. 13, 1990, show from the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, Cal., as fans were in attendance and audience recordings were made. Bootleg aficionados will know it, too, as it soon appeared in specialty shops under such titles as Don’t Spook the Horse, Feedback Is Back and Homegrown, not to mention the mammoth four-disc set Warpath, which coupled it with an audience recording that captured the first night of the 1991 “Smell the Horse” tour. 

I trawled my long-archived original Old Grey Cat site (1997-2006) and came away with reviews of two of those bootlegs. Here’s my original take on Feedback on Back, which – allegedly sourced from an audience tape – excised “Cowgirl in the Sand” in order to fit the show onto two discs; I’ve edited it ever-so-slightly…

**********

In the wake of Ragged Glory, in early 1991 Neil saddled up Crazy Horse for a tour that was eventually documented on the live double-CD Weld. If you’re familiar with that album (and you should be), then you know Neil and the Horse delivered more than just a rudimentary greatest hits set. They created a cacophony of feedback, laying down the musical equivalent of the bombs then blowing up Iraq. It was an intense affair with plenty of standards, true, but they were attacked in such a way that they came out new. One listen to the apocalyptic version of “Like a Hurricane” present on Weld is proof enough, but if need be crank up the version of “F+!#kin’ Up,” too. Maybe it’s me, but I hear it as ominous and threatening, sans the goofy spirit of the Ragged Glory rendition. It works on several levels – as does “Crime in the City,” another relatively new song that just plain kicks ass. The music accents the climate of the times even as it goes beyond them.

Feedback Is Back doesn’t do that. Taken from a warm-up date in November ’90 at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, it reflects and extends the mood of Ragged Glory: Loud, goofy and fun, with plenty of jammin’ just for the sake of jammin’ – and, no doubt, jammin’ in the name of the Lord, too. What else explains the inclusion on “T-Bone”? Yeah, that’s right. “T-Bone,” the guitar workout from re*ac*tor that features the “incisive” lyrics of “ain’t go no t-bone/got mashed potatoes.” Like the set in total, it’s not earth-shattering – but it is fun to hear Neil recast the lyrics time and again. The inclusion of more than a few infrequently played songs – “Surfer Joe & Moe the Sleaze,” “Bite the Bullet,” “Dangerbird,” “Don’t Cry No Tears” (complete with “a Las Vegas ending,” to quote Neil), the aforementioned “T-Bone” and “Homegrown” – in a set that features eight tracks from Ragged Glory amongst a handful of standards (“Cinnamon Girl,” “Sedan Delivery,” “Roll Another Number,” “Like a Hurricane” and “Cortez the Killer”) gives a different spin to what the Smell the Horse tour may have been like if not for Saddam Hussein, George Bush and CNN: A lot looser. The sound itself, while not great, is solid throughout. Of note, however, this is not the entire show. (For that, one should seek out Doberman’s Warpath.) That said, Feedback Is Back ain’t bad. Please take my advice: Play it LOUD!

**********

Of Warpath, which was sourced from a different audience tape, contributor Lookout Joe “Shaky” Deal penned the main review, noting that “[t]he Santa Cruz set is a delight because of the relaxed feel of Young and his cohorts. They had not played together in public since the Fall of 1987 (okay, okay, there was the Bridge in October 1990 and the night before this) and they are obviously enjoying themselves. They play nearly all of their then-new album, Ragged Glory, as well as such rarities as ‘Surfer Joe and Moe The Sleaze,’ ‘T-Bone’ and ‘Dangerbird’ (it was a rarity then). They also dip deep down in ‘the old rust bucket’ for a storming rendition of ‘Cowgirl in the Sand.’ It is ragged. It is glorious. It is so right.”

I then chimed in with a sentiment I’d now use to describe Way Down in the Rust Bucket: “It’s an electric, goofy set – what else can be said about a show that includes ’T-Bone’?”

**********

The main difference between it, Feedback Is Back, the other bootlegs and treed cassettes/CDs: the pristine sound. Listening to the high-resolution (192/24) files via my USB DAC and headphones is akin to being in the sonic sweet spot of the 800-seat Catalyst. Thick chords, winding guitars and sweeping melodies roll like sonic waves from the stage and leave you drenched with bliss. It’s not Neil’s greatest live album by any means, mind you, but is a welcome addition all the same. (One note: Like Feedback Is Back, “Cowgirl in the Sand” is AWOL due to an apparent recording malfunction, but was captured by the film crew so is on the DVD.) It’s available to stream on the Neil Young Archives – and membership is only $19.99/year, so if you don’t belong, join. Also, as I inferred up top, CDs and LPs bought from the slow-as-molasses Greedy Hand store come with a download code for the high-res files.

The track list:

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

My brief flirtation with Nikki Corvette receded into the mists of time, totally forgotten, until this past Tuesday, when I discovered the Feb. 23rd, 1981, edition of People magazine buried beside a few other treasures at the bottom of a desk drawer. I bought the issue at the time because of the cover story on Ringo Starr and promised updates on how he, Paul, George and Yoko were faring in the aftermath of John Lennon’s recent death; I was 15, a big Beatles fan, and hungry for news about them. In any event, the find was serendipitous, given that Tuesday was Feb. 23rd – 40 years to the day.

I snapped a picture of the cover and posted it to Instagram, as one does, then flipped to the review section to check what albums were spotlighted. The second entry offered this glowing take on the debut LP by Nikki and the Corvettes:

People, I hasten to add, wasn’t a magazine that I regularly read. In those days, I flipped through Creem, Rolling Stone, Trouser Press and the other music-oriented magazines at the newsstand, usually skimming the articles and devouring the reviews – at least in my parts, radio had begun the retrenchment to the tried-and-true, so I often bought albums based solely on the written word.

That said, I can’t be sure say for sure if the above review is what spurred me to buy the album, which was released in 1980. Trouser Press slammed it in its January 1981 edition; along with every other Trouser Press issue, it can be browsed right here. The reviewer called them “an utterly amateur female trio” that “offers a variant on early Ramones, only without comparable drive,” but that criticism could well have heightened my interest. Did Creem review it? Rolling Stone? Musician? No idea. I’m not even sure where or or when I bought it – though, given my slice of suburbia, it was likely Wee Three Records at the Village Mall, as it stocked more esoterica than the small mom-and-pop shop I generally frequented.

The moment the stylus first navigated through the LP’s grooves, I knew it was great. The opening track, “He’s a Mover,” recycles riffs and rhythms from elsewhere – as do the other 11 songs. No matter. It’s pure adrenalin, somewhat akin to the Shangri-Las fronting the Ramones – that’s what some folks have said in the decades since, at any rate. I’d toss the Go-Go’s into that sonic mix, as the music rocks, rolls and crashes with abandon. They’re punk in spirit, but pop in practice.

Listening to it all these years later, I can hear how this album primed me for both the Go-Go’s and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, whose Beauty and the Beat and I Love Rock ’n Roll were released later in 1981, not to mention Joan’s former band, the Runaways, who I got into the following year. The main difference: Nikki and the Corvettes consisted of Nikki, Lori and Krysti Corvette up front, a la the Shangri-Las, with Pete James and Bob Mulrooney (formerly of the Ramrods) on guitar and drums, and Skid Marx (of Flirt) on bass. Nikki and James co-wrote the songs, which end almost as soon as they begin – most tracks hover around two minutes in length. 

Two more highlights:

The album, which – from what Nikki says in this insightful interview on the Please Kill Me site – never went out of print, was issued on CD in 2000 with two singles and their b-sides added as bonus cuts, though their debut 45, a cover of Wanda Jackson’s “Honey Bop” was left off. (A true shame, that, though it can be heard via YouTube.) Interestingly, the original album art came as a shock to Nikki and the band – they expected to see the picture on the back on the front. This short Wikipedia entry on Nikki fills in more details, as does this 2010 interview.

Why I left the album behind is a mystery to me. After those first frenetic weeks with it, I set it aside, probably assuming I’d pick up where I left off once they released their second album…which never came. When I began moving from vinyl to CD in the late 1980s, and needed cash, it was one of many albums – alongside LPs by Mi-Sex and others – that I sold without a second thought. The CD release passed me by, too.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a pick-me-up, you can do a lot worse. It’s fun and – even in its extended form – short. (The original album clocks in at about 24 minutes; with the four bonus cuts, it’s now 32 minutes.) Not the greatest album of all time, but one well worth many listens – until yesterday, I had it on repeat for most of the week. It’ll leave you with a smile, guaranteed.

The track list:

Early Sunday morning, I strapped on my headphones so as not to disturb Diane, the cat or neighbors and clicked play on Australian singer-songwriter Indigo Sparke’s debut album, Echo. I noticed its release listed in Apple Music’s “indie folk” genre on Friday and decided to give it a go today – as background music while waking up, essentially. At first blush, it’s lo-fi, hushed and intimate, the kind of music that – in theory, at least – blends into the background while the coffee kicks in. But the nine songs don’t hang back; they circulate and percolate their way to the foreground, demand attention. They are, in a sense, fever dreams set to song, intense.

“Colourblind,” which opens the set, is a perfect example. It floats in from the horizon as if on a gentle breeze, but sidesteps gauzy sentiments while relating the stark realities of a failing relationship: “There’s a distance in our words/there’s a distance and it hurts and/all the king’s horses/all the king’s men, well, couldn’t/no, they couldn’t put it all back together again…” 

Sparke co-produced the album alongside Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker and Andrew Sarlo, who – among other credits – helmed Courtney Marie Andrew’s Old Flowers album; she’d been slated to open for Big Thief on their planned Australia-New Zealand trek in 2020 prior to the pandemic putting everything on hold. Framed by sparse instrumentation, including herself on acoustic guitar, she whispers, speaks and sings the lyrics, a self-professed “orchestra of truth” whose word symphonies alternate between social realism and abstract expressionism.

Pretty much every review or article I’ve read about her borrows from a press release the Brooklyn-based Sacred Bones label issued in January, when it announced they’d signed her, so I thought I’d do the same, but quote it verbatim: “Indigo Sparke brings her deeply personal lived experiences to her music, highlighting the spaces between the polarity of softness and grit. Pulling from her experiences of addiction, of healing, of queerness, of heartbreak, of joy, of connection, of the softness and of the grit alchemising it all into tenderness through her music, she conjures up a myriad of feelings that is undeniably potent.”

That’s true, but verbose. I’d have phrased it differently: These are murmurs from the heart and soul, one part poetry and one part prose. It’s the powerful “Carnival” culminating in the unlikely admission that “I feel like I can’t feel…” 

…and the haunting “Everything Everything,” in which she shares an unlikely epiphany: Everything, everyone, is dying. The young, the healthy, the old, the infirm – we all, every day, are one step closer to death. The past gave way to the present and the present will soon fold into the future; what we do will not, cannot, stop us from falling into the universe’s big black void. 

In the release announcing the album, she’s quoted as saying that “[w]hen writing and recording the record, I wondered how it would all come together. I felt like I was standing back in the desert, looking up at the blue night sky, wondering how all the stars would connect. I think sometimes it’s the dark matter or void space between them, that holds it all together. This record is an ode to death and decay. And the restlessness I feel to belong to something greater.” Whether she achieved all of that, I don’t know – it’s too early to say. But I can proclaim that Echo is one of those albums you’ll play a second time if you play it once, and play it a third, fourth and fifth time after that. It’s highly recommended.

The track list:

As the early 1970s edged into the mid-1970s, the subdivision of America’s sonic landscape picked up speed. Perhaps no better evidence of it can be found than in the burgeoning numbers of singer-songwriters geared toward the college-and-older crowd. Theirs weren’t teen laments and/or rants; instead, they sang about love won and lost, plus life’s other hardships, with subjects ripped not from the headlines but their hearts. Much of the credit (or blame) can be directed to the success of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s eponymous 1969 album and releases from Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens and James Taylor.

In late 1972, Dan Fogelberg released his debut, Home Free. It sold poorly out of the gate for a variety of reasons, including a lack of promotion from his label, Columbia, but between then and the release of his sophomore set, Souvenirs, in October 1974, a lot had changed. For starters, there had been something of a groundswell of support for Home Free; a two-page piece in the Denver Post spurred sales in Colorado, for instance, and he’d found a receptive home in – of all places – Jackson, Miss., due to a local FM station. The same was true in other places across the U.S.; he may not have been a household name, but he was winning over listeners. As importantly: He formed his own record label, Full Moon Records, and inked a distribution deal with Epic. 

He’d gained two years more experience, as well. Home Free was musically strong despite (or perhaps because of) the overt CSN influence, but marred by Fogelberg’s frequently subpar lyrics. On Souvenirs, he continues with the same harmony-laden style as before, but ups his lyrical game. Produced by Joe Walsh, it features top-notch studio personnel. In addition to Walsh, it includes the N from CSN, Graham Nash, who provides backing vocals on two tracks; drummer extraordinaire Russ Kunkel; bassist Bryan Garofalo, who – among other credits – was once in a band with Kunkel; and Manassas refugees Paul Harris (piano), Joe Lala (percussion), Kenny Passarelli (bass) and Al Perkins (pedal steel) – Passarelli, of course, was also the bassist in Barnstorm, while the other three backed the band in the studio. The Eagles’ Don Henley also plays drums and sings harmony on one song and, alongside bandmate Glenn Frey, provides backing vocals on another track.

“Part of the Plan” opens the album to nice effect, with its mid-tempo gait complementing well-written lyrics: “I have these moments all steady and strong/I’m feeling so holy and humble/The next thing I know I’m all worried and weak/And I feel myself starting to crumble/The meanings get lost and the teachings get tossed/And you don’t know what you’re going to do next…”

The dose of homesickness that is “Illinois” continues with the same pleasant vibe – and, at least to my ears, echoes Stephen Stills’ similarly themed “Colorado.” Musically speaking, “Changing Horses,” “Better Change” and the title track continue in the same vein, but at a slower pace, with well-written lyrics complementing a soft-rock sound. These are songs for a Sunday morning or weeknight before bed that are sure not to disturb the neighbors; some may call the lyrics pretentious, and at times they are – but within the construct of the songs, they work. “Here is a poem that my lady sent down/Some morning while I was away/Wrote on the back of a leaf that she found/Somewhere around Monterey…”

“As the Raven Flies” conjures not CSN, but Crosby & Nash backed by the Mighty Jitters. It’s a stunner that, similar to Home Free’s “The River,” seems at odds with the other songs on the album. It’s my favorite of the 11 tracks.

“Morning Sky” is another delight. Sporting a distinct country feel, it foreshadows his classic (if oft-overlooked) High Country Snows LP while laying down a story of a relationship doomed by his restlessness. “(Someone’s Been) Telling You Stories,” which follows, sounds like an outtake from Stephen Stills’ double-LP Manassas set, but with lyrics far more defensive than anything Stills ever penned. (Fogelberg lays out several scenarios of infidelity before claiming they never happened.) Coupled together, they paint a portrait of a young man unsure of himself.

The set ends with “There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler,” which conjures both CSN and the Eagles. It’s meant, I think, to be a grand statement to end the album. Musically, it builds bit by bit, expanding the soundscape into something far larger than the lyrics achieve: “There’s a light in the depths of your darkness/There’s a calm at the eye of every storm/There’s a light in the depths of your darkness/let it shine…oh, let it shine.” Lyrical shortcomings aside, however, it’s still a damn good song.

All in all, Souvenirs is a step up from Home Free. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Fogelberg gained traction with this set, which reached No. 17 on the charts, despite the sonic landscape being littered with so many other singer-songwriters and “soft rock” practitioners. It’s a solid outing with a handful of stellar moments. My suggestion: Some Sunday morning, give it a whirl.

The track list: