Since the pandemic’s start, Neil Young and Daryl Hannah have holed up somewhere in the wilds of Colorado. It’s a beautiful locale, rustic and atop a mountain – and sans decent broadband. As he noted in the Times-Contrarian in March, “When we first tried to live stream Fireside Sessions a few days ago, we died on the vine. We had no way to get to you because our signal was too shaky. That’s why we are making Fireside Session films, so we can get them to you with no interruptions direct from high in the Rockies.” Daryl films him on an iPad, edits the performances together, and then they leave the iPad outside their front door; a friend from town picks it up, takes it home and uploads it to the NYA site.
I share those facts because The Times EP is the audio from the sixth edition of the Fireside Sessions, aka the “Porch Episode.” The “shut up and sing” crowd will be happy to hear that Neil doesn’t make any political diatribes during the set, but they’ll likely be pissed that he instead uses the music to make his points. He kicks off with a song that once angered Ronnie Van Zant, “Alabama.” Unlike in ’72, however, the song’s become something of a metaphor for the nation writ large: “Your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch/What’s going wrong?”
“Campaigner,” inspired by an ailing Richard Nixon, is next; in some respects, it’s a reminder of the message shared in Matthew 5:44, “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Hate serves no one, in other words. That it’s coupled with “Ohio,” in which Neil named Nixon by name, strengthens that point, I think.
A heartfelt performance of “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” the much-covered Bob Dylan protest song that dates to 1964, follows. “There’s a battle outside and it’s raging/It will soon shake your windows/And rattle your walls/For the times they are a-changin’…” Sad to say, it’s as on-point now as it was way back when.
The first single, an update of “Lookin’ for a Leader” (originally from Living With War) follows: “Yeah, we had Barack Obama/And we really need him now/The man who stood behind him/Has to take his place somehow/America has a leader/Building walls around our house/He don’t know black lives matter/And we got to vote him out.”
“Southern Man” is next. Like “Alabama,” in the years since its release in 1970, the song has essentially become a metaphor for a mindset that has polluted human history from its start.
An aching rendition of “Little Wing,” which was first released on 1980’s Hawks & Doves (and on its intended original home, Homegrown, earlier this year) closes the EP. “Little wing don’t fly away/When the summer turns to fall/Don’t you know some people say/The winter is the best time of them all/The winter is the best of all…” It’s a delicate performance of a beautiful song, that – on the episode – culminates with Neil singing to the blue sky, as my picture up top shows.
Unfortunately, the EP is not available via all the usual streaming outlets. It can be purchased on CD, but only streamed by subscribers to the Neil Young Archives or Amazon, as Jeff Bezos’ mega-market offers, like NYA, “HD” streaming. (The EP itself is 24/48 due to the recording limitations of the iPad.) Interestingly, however, it can also be streamed from Amazon’s non-HD Prime service…and purchased from Amazon as MP3s! Weird, huh? So, no Apple Music, Spotify or Tidal, or any of the others, but “when you hear my song now, you only get five percent” MP3s can still be had.
Whatever. It’s a stirring set that longtime travelers and newcomers alike should enjoy. Seek it out; you won’t be disappointed.