Archive for the ‘The Old Grey Cat’ Category

Years long ago, with the old website, I routinely received requests to review new releases from independent artists and bands. The emails arrived in my inbox (the same Yahoo Mail account I use today, believe it or not), contained links to low-quality song snippets, and if interested I replied with my address. A week or so later, a CD would show up in my mailbox.

I usually ignored such enquiries.

In late 1997, however, I received a request from an Arizona-based band called Permission to Breathe, who thought that their song “(Leanin’ on) Neil Young’s Soul” was a natural fit for my site. As astute Internet historians should know, the original Old Grey Cat site leaned on Neil Young-related content to attract hundreds of visitors a day. I figured what the hell, and told them to send a CD my way.

A few months later, on February 8th, 1998, I posted the below essay, which used the “(Leanin’ on) Neil Young’s Soul” song as a launching pad for something more than a straight review; I’m sure it wasn’t what the band wanted, but c’est la vie. (I have edited the piece for clarity, excised a few digressions of digressions – back then I subscribed to a stream-of-consciousness approach I now find abhorrent – and added the YouTube clips.)

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That’s me in 1972 or ’73, above.

Yeah, even then I was something of a hippie, an outsider, a rebel, ready, willing and able to sneak off with a buddy for a smoke – of tobacco. The smoke seduced and corrupted our young lungs, with the coughs erupting from within us little more than echoes of our fading innocence.

Music was a known entity to me: My mom and dad liked “the anti-Neil,” Neil Diamond, and me, I thrived on Johnny Horton. If you’ve never heard of him, it’s a shame: In the late ’50s, he hit the charts with a variety of historical-based novelty songs -“The Battle of New Orleans,” “Sink the Bismarck,” “Jim Bridger” and “Johnny Freedom” – to name but a few. I played his Greatest Hits album on my portable record player, listened to the music and memorized the words.

I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but he was a “Honky Tonk Man” who mined the rich veins of hillbilly music, a pioneer who helped pave the way for Buck Owens and, later, Dwight Yoakam. “Guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music/it’s the only thing that keeps me hanging on,” Dwight sang on his first album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., capturing on vinyl (or cassette, in my case) the reflection of his – and mine, and yours – soul. It’s an undeniably great album. If you don’t have it, get it, and crank it up. Hell, yes, it’s hillbilly music. It’s real. Authentic.

Certain songs, certain albums stay with you for the long haul. They take you back to a time, a place, a street like a lot of other streets in a town like a lot of other towns – and, yes, I more or less copped those last lines from the final episode of The Wonder Years. But great music does more than just take you back: It speaks for you in the present, too. We change, it changes.

Neil Young’s music is like that. “Down by the River” (from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere) means many things, few of which are actually articulated in the lyrics. It’s the guitar rising, falling, swirling in space like a Deadhead twirling, each time ’round different from the last. It speaks volumes – especially when played loud.

Another album, another year: Neil’s Old Ways in 1985. Not a great album by any means, but “Bound for Glory,” a duet with Waylon Jennings, is sublime. Came out the year before Dwight’s LP and another landmark, must-buy album, Steve Earle’s Guitar Town. In that same time frame came yet another genre-busting effort: Lone Justice’s debut, which featured the absolutely sweet Maria McKee’s mercurial vocals on such songs as “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling),” “Ways to Be Wicked” and “You Are the Light.” 

If you don’t have Lone Justice’s debut, hunt it down. I recommend investing in – at the least – Maria McKee’s entire catalogue; whether live or on album, she sends shivers up the spine with just about every song she sings. That’s a cliché, I know, but that’s what happens when you write about music: you find yourself groping for words and phrases that accurately sum up what it is the music makes you feel. ‘Cause in the end, that’s what great music does: It makes you feel.

It doesn’t matter if it’s new or old; the best songs and albums, like great literature, communicate in the moment, not the past. I wasn’t at Woodstock; I don’t remember Kent State. When I was five, I met then-Vice President Spiro Agnew and was thrilled to shake his hand. I knew nothing of hippies or the anti-war movement, of his or President Nixon’s crimes. But I was in the stands in Atlantic City when Neil Young dedicated “Ohio” to the students slain in China.

That song – although about a specific time and place – transcends its origin. For good and ill, Kent State has entered the lexicon as a metaphor. And, to paraphrase David Crosby, metaphors are the driving force behind great songs.

“My heart wants to be unbroken/my dreams rattle here unspoken/my days have all got a number/I need a good song so I don’t feel so wrong/so I’m leanin’ on Neil Young’s soul/I’m leanin’ on Neil Young’s soul…”

Those lyrics are from a recent find which came the Old Grey Cat’s way quite by chance. There, in my mailbox last December, was an invite from an Arizona-based band called Permission to Breathe: Review us, they said. They’d just released a song they thought I might appreciate: “(Leanin’ on) Neil Young’s Soul.” It’s a sentiment, obviously, that captured my imagination.

The first time I heard their self-titled CD, I said to Diane, “They’re going far.” It was neither an affirmation of the music nor a condemnation, just a recognition that they possess all of the ingredients necessary to storm the charts.

I’ve lived with the disc for just over a month and can honestly say I like the Neil Young song: “You say I’ll never be forgiven/your way is taking no giving/that my role is that of a sinner/I need a strong song/that rockin’ free world song/I find myself…leanin’ on Neil Young’s soul.”

It rocks and, as importantly, it captures in “feel” that part of us that turns to certain songs for inspiration. There are other moments of clarity as well, including “Crooked by Design” (“This life of mine, tangled in twine/May not be pretty, but it suits me/Rebel inside, just won’t hide…”) and “Nothing Now,” which documents a relationship’s dying days. 

I don’t know how or where Permission to Breathe and/or “Leanin’ on Neil Young’s Soul” will rank in the pantheon of music that makes up the soundtrack of my – or your – life. But, that’s the thing about music. You meet a song, you embrace and it’s with you for the long haul unless and until, for reasons best left unsaid, you leave it stranded on the roadside. “Leanin’ on Neil Young’s Soul,” that one is in the “probable” stage right now. It’s great on a tape right before…you got it: “Down by the River.”

While digging through my digital archives, I came across this 1997 email interview I conducted, for my old website, with Canadian rock music historian John Einarson, author of such respected tomes as Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied, Desperados: The Roots of Country Rock, and Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers, about his then-current There’s Something Happening: The Story of the Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth.

It was, and remains, the best book on that influential band.

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To my way of thinking, despite recent acclaim and their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Springfield remain one of the most overlooked and under appreciated bands that the 1960s produced. That’s an arguable fact, I’ll grant you. After all, “For What It’s Worth” is the song de rigueur used in movies to echo the mood of the ’60s … yet, blank stares still grace too many faces whenever the band is mentioned. “Buffalo who?”

Hell, the day of the Springfield’s entrance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I listened in horror as a disc jockey at a local, respected music station reported the news and then went on to describe the band’s lineup as including “Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, and David Crosby.” Excuse me? Crosby!? Yeah, he did hang out with Stephen Stills; he’s said to have come up the guitar lick Stills based “Rock & Roll Woman” on. He sat in with them at Monterey Pop, joined them at a couple other gigs. But a member of the band?

You’ve gotta be kidding me.

The David Crosby “saga,” such as it is, receives its rightful mention in John Einarson and Richie Furay’s book, There’s Something Happening: The Story of the Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth, with colorful quotes from Bruce Palmer (“Crosby stunk to high heaven”) and fill-in guitarist Doug Hastings. The same can be said for every other important event in the band’s lifespan and beyond, including an ill-fated “reunion” in 1988 that Neil Young skipped at the last minute. Einarson does a deft job of documenting these moments, interspersing a crisp narrative with first-hand observations from some, if not all, of the participants.

Aside from delving into the inner-group dynamics that drove (and ultimately broke up) the band, the book is thankfully respectful of private lives. This is no tell-all/groupie-laden chronicle, in other words, but a serious examination of the Springfield’s career. That’s not to say you don’t get clear pictures of the principles. Stills, for example, comes across confident and cocky, a young man sure of himself and his talents. He strove not only to write and sing the songs, but play lead guitar, too. In short, he saw the band as his. Neil Young, on the other hand, didn’t just doubt his role in the Springfield; he doubted the group itself. That he skipped out on the eve of their biggest break – an appearance on The Tonight Show – says it all. He possessed (still does) a distinct vision of what rock music should and shouldn’t be. And in the shadows of those two opposites stood the good-natured Richie Furay, not necessarily content with his role but accepting of it all the same.

OGC: What led you to write a book about the Buffalo Springfield?

John Einarson: The idea to do a Springfield book stemmed from several factors, really: the subject seemed logical given that I covered Neil’s career up to that point in a previous book [Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied]; I have always had a great appreciation and fascination with the Springfield’s music and troubled history; and because there is a strong Canadian connection and all my previous books tend to have that thread through them. But besides that, I’ve always been a Springfield fan. I’m probably dating myself here but I first got into the Buffalo Springfield in late 1966/early 1967 when I first heard their debut album on the radio here in Winnipeg. Neil was home for Christmas and he brought a copy with him and a local deejay played it (actually Neil only lived up the block and one street over from me). I was fascinated with the Springfield sound because I was into folk rock and I found their style unique from the Byrds and other folk-based groups at the time. “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” ranks as my personal all-time favorite song.

OGC: What role did Richie Furay play in the book’s creation?

Einarson: Richie was my main source on the group. I found him extremely open, receptive and eager to get the Springfield story documented accurately and completely. The group holds a very special place in his heart and he didn’t want a toss-off book. I spent four days with him in Boulder, Colorado in intense interviews, plus several lengthy follow-ups by phone. Throughout the entire research and writing process, Richie was directly involved and approved the final manuscript. Given his participation, the book becomes the authentic, authorized story of the Springfield. Richie and I first hooked up back in 1992 at Neil Young’s suggestion when I was researching Don’t Be Denied. When I decided to pursue a Springfield book, I first contacted him because I viewed his participation as pivotal to the book’s development. We renewed our friendship and took it from there. He is a man of integrity who had no particular agenda or axe to grind. He tells it like it was. And you couldn’t meet a nicer guy than Richie. He also provided me with contacts to interview other people associated with the group and loaned his scrapbooks and rare collection of photos which appear throughout the book.

OGC: While doing your research, did you discover anything that surprised you?

Einarson: TONS!! Where to begin? It’s all in the book I guess. When I undertake a project, whether an article or a book, I immerse myself in research in order to be well-prepared for interviews, Actually Richie was knocked out at my detailed knowledge and chronology. However, given that I had a more than casual knowledge of the group’s checkered history I was still overwhelmed with the volume of new information I discovered. For example, Neil’s epilepsy was a far greater issue than ever assumed and affected the band several times (even being the catalyst for “Mr. Soul”). I never envisioned the enormity of the Stills-Young rivalry. The attempt to oust Dewey for Skip Spence. The influence of two Moby Grape songs on “For What It’s Worth.” The whole Au Go Go Singers and Company story. The sheer volume of songs recorded yet left unreleased (and still languishing in vaults unheard). The problems putting Last Time Around together. That the group considered going on as a 4 piece on two occasions. Neil’s self-indulgence and lack of commitment. Bruce’s many drug busts. The fact that their bass position was far more in flux than I realized. The fact that the group had decided to break up long before their May, 1968 swansong. The ineptitude of their managers…. and on and on. It was quite a revelation, albeit pleasant.

OGC: Were you able to interview all of the principles? What were they like?

Einarson: I interviewed just about everyone in or associated with the group plus key contemporaries at that time. As well, I interviewed people associated with several members’ previous groups like the Au Go Go Singers, and Squires. I had interviewed Neil Young a few years back while researching Don’t Be Denied and we had talked about the Springfield so I had that already, a lot I hadn’t used in that book. Stephen Stills was a different story though. He refused to cooperate. Richie, who collaborated with me, was disappointed that Stephen refused all entreaties to cooperate even after he personally attempted to break through. It seems Stephen doesn’t share the same regard for the past as some others do and I was informed that he was planning his own book down the road sometime. But by collaborating with Richie, it gives the book a unique perspective because he was the man in the middle between these two creative yet often combative factions, Stephen and Neil. His insights into their personalities are quite revealing. I did manage to interview several dozen key people such as Dickie Davis, Dewey Martin, Doug Hastings, Bruce Palmer, Miles Thomas, Rusty Young, Chris Hillman and notorious manager Charlie Greene.

OGC: Don’t Be Denied covers Neil’s early years. For What It’s Worth picks up with the Springfield. Do you have plans to document the next “chapter(s)” in Neil’s career

Einarson: No, I’ll leave that to others more knowledgeable about his later period. My expertise is in the early years and every book written on Neil Young since Don’t Be Denied was published has borrowed from my research and acknowledged my work. That’s where my interest lies. I’m currently collaborating on a European CSNY book that will cover each of the four members from the earliest years up to today. Several writers are involved and I’m doing Young and Stills’ early period up to the end of the Springfield.

OGC: Are you a fan of Neil’s post-Springfield work? Stephen’s? Richie’s?

Einarson: I like some things from each of them. I liked Neil’s work through to the end of the 70s but sort of lost interest since 1990, the godfather of grunge period. I loved Richie with Poco and the Souther Hillman Furay Band. I still think he has one of the best country-rock voices around and hope he gets back to performing. I guess out of the three I followed Stephen’s solo career less, though I love Crosby, Stills & Nash, still do. That debut album was phenomenal.

OGC: The portion of For What It’s Worth that dealt with the possibility of David Crosby’s joining the band fascinated me. Do you really think he would have joined if Stills had asked? Or, as he claimed on a radio show a few months after Monterey Pop, was his sitting in with them just in keeping with the times?

Einarson: David denied it again when I posed the question to him while researching the book but I think that he might have jumped ship if the timing had been right. If Stephen had asked at the point when the Byrds kicked Crosby out, in the fall after Monterey, I think he might have accepted. But by then Neil and Bruce were back and it was full steam ahead. There’s no question that once the Springfield members had decided to call it a day, Stills phoned Crosby first. Chris Hillman still maintains that Crosby wanted to be a Buffalo more than a Byrd by 1967. Certainly the Springfield were more creative than the Byrds by then. Who knows. Interesting that for a brief time three Buffalos–Stills, Young, & Palmer–were together with Crosby and Nash in CSNY. But David didn’t like that very much.

OGC: Would you agree with the assessment that the Springfield was “Stephen’s band”?

Einarson: Yes. Now that’s not to negate the contributions of the others but from the outset Stephen Stills set the course, arranged the music, made most of the major decisions, conducted most of the interviews as spokesman, and wrote the most commercially successful songs. To the average person at that time, the Buffalo Springfield was the voice of Stephen Stills. And he hung on until the end still trying to make the group work. One can see how someone as singularly focused as Neil Young could have problems with that, especially after “For What It’s Worth” became a hit.

OGC: Overall, where would you rate the Springfield in the pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll?

Einarson: Right near the top. Their influence shaped the sound and style of so many other artists that followed them. The Springfield’s folk rock was quite different from the Byrds or anybody else at that time, drawing instead on an earlier folk tradition that incorporated acoustic and electric guitars together laying down intricate lines woven around each other. Theirs was a truly unique sound that later found success in groups like The Eagles. As well, their emphasis on developing individual singer/songwriting styles within one group, as evidenced by their Again album which is highly diverse, helped set that whole singer/songwriter trend of the early seventies and the whole California country rock/soft rock genre. Their induction into the Hall of Fame, a group who really only scored one Top Ten hit not even a Number 1 record in a brief two year lifespan, is testament to their importance to the development of rock music. Almost all their recorded work was never fully appreciated because it was ahead of its time. That masterpieces like “Bluebird,” “Expecting To Fly,” and “Rock And Roll Woman” could fail to crack the Top 40 remains bewildering. Unfortunately when people think of the Springfield, they tend to focus on who came out of it and the success achieved by the individual band members following the demise of the group.

OGC: What’s the next project on tap?

Einarson: That’s always a secret. I just might take on a project in a completely different direction. I currently have a couple of offers and some irons in the fire. Doing the Buffalo Springfield story was a personal dream of mine that I am very pleased to have fulfilled. I hope it brings many more people back to their music and maintains their legacy.

In preparation for my forthcoming review of Neil’s latest archival release, Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live, I’ve been digging through my own archives with a few reviews from the original Old Grey Cat website. (For the first entry, go here.) This one is for a bootleg CD called Sunset Strip on a label called Rough Kut Trax – and an appropriate label name it is. As I explain in the review below, the sound is decidedly rough…

(The review itself dates from sometime in the late ’90s. I can’t narrow it down any more than that, unfortunately – the files themselves are dated from when I archived the website in 2005, not when I wrote them.)

Track List: 9/22/1973: Tonight’s the Night, Mellow My Mind, World on a String, Speakin’ Out, Albuquerque, New Mama, Roll Another Number, Tired Eyes, Tonight’s the Night, The Losing End 3/17/1973: Tell Me Why, L.A., Lookout Joe, Don’t Be Denied, Yonder Stands the Sinner, Last Dance

The Review: “Don’t fuck around. Get drunk…I’m actually staying very straight for this show because I don’t want to get too loose, you know.” In a nutshell, that’s 1973, one of the – if not the – decisive years in Neil’s career. Neil definitely had a yin-yang thang going…sloppy renditions of great songs, right? Maybe. Maybe not. In fact, the Old Grey Cat is of the opinion that the “sloppy” playing actually reinforces the songs. It’s part of a larger whole. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye, in other words, and in this instance that means “mood.”

Taken from what’s said to be the late show on Sept. 22, 1973, the third night of a four-night, eight-show run at the then-brand spanking new Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, it presents Neil’s “Miami Beach” vision in its nascence, he and the Santa Monica Flyers performing a solid and oft-inspiring set that, like Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Never Die, is stronger than the Tonight’s the Night acetate found on the Broken Arrow boot. One high: Nils Lofgren’s solo on “Speakin’ Out.” Another: the mellow “New Mama,” which is part and parcel of the yin-yang theme that permeates the entire Tonight’s the Night acetate, tour and eventual album. Life and death go hand-in-hand, you know.

Unfortunately, as a CD, Sunset Strip does suffer from some serious flaws. First and foremost, the sound is not what most neophytes would term acceptable. At times, the music crackles and threatens to break up – well, it does break up but, still, it’s listenable…maybe only for someone like me who thrives on Tonight’s the Night-tour sets, though. Let’s put it this way: I’ve heard much worse recordings from that tour and enjoyed them, too. Another major flaw: You know the sound some cassette players make when you fast-forward a tape? That squeaky, squished sound that radiates from the speakers like a high-pitched wheeze? You’ll hear that between some of the songs. Neil’s patter isn’t presented in its entirety, in other words, thus stealing from the impact of the performance. In fact, the choppy and incompetent editing is what most mars the CD.

As far as the bonus material, it’s taken from the Time Fades Away tour – March 17, 1973 in Seattle, to be exact, which featured the debut of “Yonder Stands the Sinner.” The performance here of that classic should be familiar, as it’s the same performance which was used for the Time Fades Away album. Soundwise, there is an improvement – but not a drastic one.

This disc is really for those seeking to complement other boots that document the same era. 

Grade: (C+)

My thoughts circa tonight (4/26/2018): I’m either a tad generous above regarding sound quality or my standards have substantially increased. I plugged the CD into the CD player and…wow. Just wow. The sound is absolutely atrocious.

I woke this morning to find an email from Neil Young (actually, Warner Brothers) in my inbox encouraging me to download Neil’s latest archival release, Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live. The set, for those unaware, captures Neil and the Santa Monica Flyers in performance at the now-legendary Roxy Theatre in L.A. in 1973. They were the first band to play in the hallowed hall, though this set isn’t entirely the first show – it features material recorded from September 20th through the 23rd.

It’s a remarkable set, well worth the purchase (though it can be streamed over at the Neil Young Archives for free at the moment).

Of course, I like to contemplate, cogitate and ruminate before offering a review. So I thought, instead, I’d reach into my own digital archives while I give the set a few more listens. Back in the day (aka the late ‘90s to mid-‘00s), I should explain for newcomers, I oversaw a website also called The Old Grey Cat. The original aim was to create an online encyclopedia of my and Diane’s favorites – and we each had sections and features on many artists, and even – via live365.com, which at the time offered dirt-cheap plans – a radio show, of sorts. But the primarily focus of the endeavor quickly became my “Unofficial Neil Young Pages,” which delved into the world of bootleg CDs.

So, without further adieu, here’s a group review of three bootlegs that capture Neil in performance back in 1973 that I wrote in 1997. (Wow. Where did the time go?) The images are circa ’97, too. (As I note in my Da Boot flashback, Neil Young: The Best of the Unofficial Canon, I never listen to bootlegs nowadays.)

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Lonely Weekend: On the Way Home, Tell Me Why, L.A., Journey Through the Past, Borrowed Tune, Out on the Weekend, Harvest, Old Man, Heart of Gold, Lonely Weekend, New Mama, Alabama, Last Dance, Don’t Be Denied, Cinnamon Girl, Lookout Joe, Southern Man

Last Dance: Cripple Creek Ferry, Here We Are In the Years, L.A., Soldier, Out on the Weekend, Old Man, Heart of Gold, The Loner, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Time Fades Away, New Mama, Alabama, Don’t Be Denied, Cinnamon Girl, Lookout Joe, Southern Man, Last Dance, Are You Ready for the Country?

Broken Arrow: (BBC Sessions:) Out on the Weekend, Old Man, Journey Through the Past, Heart of Gold, Don’t Let Me Bring You Down, A Man Needs a Maid, Love in Mind, Dance, Dance, Dance (Tonight’s the Night acetate:) Tonight’s the Night, Mellow My Mind, Roll Another Number, Tired Eyes, Speakin’ Out, Walk On, For the Turnstiles, Bad Fog of Loneliness, New Mama, Winterlong, Borrowed Tune, Traces

Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Never Die: Tonight’s the Night, Mellow My Mind, World on a String, Speakin’ Out, Albuquerque, New Mama, Roll Another Number, Tired Eyes, Tonight’s the Night, Flying on the Ground Is Wrong, Human Highway, Helpless, Don’t Be Denied

In retrospect, 1973 may well be one of the most important years in Neil’s artistic development. Following Danny Whitten’s overdose death in November ’72, which occurred after Neil sent him home from rehearsals for the upcoming tour, a shaken Neil regrouped with The Stray Gators, and launched a three-month tour that was deemed ramshackle by the rock press and many fans enchanted with the mega-hit Harvest LP. The sets were generally short – 75 minutes or so – and the songs themselves were unkempt, fraying at the edges. By tour’s end, with Neil’s voice by then ravaged, David Crosby and Graham Nash flew in to provide assistance – the result of which can be heard on the live album which resulted from that tour, Time Fades Away. Neil has always characterized that album as an “honest” album – it documented “where he was at” at the time. It also contains stark, powerful songs that speak universal truths about the human condition. They’re plaintive, raw, the kind of material that isn’t readily accessible. Time Fades Away itself is part of the three-album arc that includes Tonight’s the Night and On the Beach, and is an important chapter in Neil’s evolution. That it hasn’t been released on CD as yet is a shame.

Lonely Weekend and Last Dance document two nights from what became the “Time Fades Away” tour. Six days separate Neil’s maiden Maple Leaf Garden concert in Toronto (1/15/73) and the appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall, on Jan. 21st in 1973. Lonely Weekend‘s set-list includes “Journey Through the Past” coupled with “Borrowed Tune,” and an electric set that rocks: “Alabama,” “Last Dance,” “Don’t Be Denied,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “Lookout Joe” and “Southern Man” cap the night in fine form. Last Dance continues the pace unabated, adding in such live rarities as “Cripple Creek Ferry,” “Here We Are in the Years” and “Soldier.” The not-so-rare “The Loner” is another treat; Neil and the Stray Gators’ “cook,” to use an aged expression.

Both boots suffer the same relative flaw, however – they’re audience tapes and, as a result, the sonics are a bit flat. That said, they’re actually above average as far as audience tapes go and more than listenable. One’s no better than the other, but neither is worse, either.

1973 didn’t end with those shows, of course. By early summer he’d regrouped with CSN to record an album tentatively named Human Highway. The project collapsed soon thereafter due to ego conflicts (for a hint of what might have been, check out Winterland Reunion) and by August Neil was back working with the surviving members of Crazy Horse and Nils Lofgren, who sat in on guitar. Remember, too, that Bruce Berry (a CSNY roadie) died that year from smack. When Neil and the guys gathered at the recording studio, they’d drink tequila until the mood was right – and then stare into the abyss.

Or something to that effect. The acetate for the Tonight’s the Night Neil originally planned to release – but shelved instead – has come to light in recent years. Mine is titled Broken Arrow (not to be confused with the 1996 studio album of the same name) and comes coupled with an acoustic BBC performance from 1971. The first thing to understand is that it’s not the same album as the Tonight’s the Night released in 1975. Check out the lineup for starters: “Tonight’s the Night,” “Mellow My Mind,” “Roll Another Number,” “Tired Eyes,” “Speakin’ Out,” “Walk On,” “For the Turnstiles,” “Bad Fog of Loneliness,” “New Mama,” “Winterlong,” “Borrowed Tune” and “Traces.” It’s interesting, not necessarily weaker than the released version’s but – to me -nowhere near as intense. Maybe it’s the lack of “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown” and the second “Tonight’s the Night,” the fact that the second half of this set, save for “Borrowed Tune,” isn’t really connected to the tragedies of 1973 per se. They’re good songs, don’t get me wrong, and Neil and the band do bring them all justice – “Bad Fog” and “Winterlong” both chug along rather nicely in the arrangements here, and “Traces” is one of the best unreleased tracks in Neil’s arsenal. At the same time, the songs also steal from the overall impact of the album’s overt theme concerning willful and not so willful self-destruction.

As a CD recording of an 25-year-old acetate (a vinyl test-pressing), there’s plenty of pops, crackles and hiss here. In other words, the sound isn’t very good. Of the three CDs reviewed here, it’s the one I’d least recommend to casual or new fans but the one I’d first suggest to fanatics.

Following that recording session, Neil did what he seems to do on a frequent basis: He hit the road. But if the concerts in the early part of the year were deemed “ramshackle,” these shows were–well, damned weird. “Welcome to Miami Beach,” he’d proclaim between songs. The songs, of course, were from the – at the time – unreleased Tonight’s the Night. As Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Never Die, which documents the November 3rd Manchester, England show, shows, he’d launch into the new material with…controlled abandon. It’s interesting to listen to; for one, unlike the acetate, the song cycle is much more in tune with the official product, with only “Borrowed Tune,” “C’mon Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” and “Lookout Joe” missing, and the other songs, while presented in a slightly different order, having the impact that acetate does not. The show also lays doubt to Neil’s alleged lack of coherence. Listened to from a distance of 24 years, and minus the visuals, he sounds in full control of both his faculties and his art–even when he’s heckled from the audience! “It’s great to be a rock ‘n’ roll star,” he says leading up to an intense rendition of “Don’t Be Denied.”

Don’t be denied, indeed. All four: A.

[More on Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Never Die can be found on Neil Young: The Best of the Unofficial Canon.]

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And one more, also from ’73 – my take on the aforementioned Winterland Reunion.

The songs: Helplessly Hoping, Wooden Ships, Blackbird, As I Come of Age, Roll Another Number, Human Highway, New Mama, So It Goes, Prison Song, Long Time Gone, Change Partners (bonus:) Down by the River

1973: It was a bad year, a sad year, a year for the history books. “The pall of the Watergate is upon us,” reflected Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmum in an address to the American Bar Association that August. So true. America, it seemed, was fraying at the seams. Not only was there the Watergate matter, but there was an economic crisis, an energy crisis–and, to bring the crises closer to home, an aborted CSNY reunion.

The foursome had come together on Maui in Hawaii, recording a bevy of songs (“Human Highway,” “Pardon My Heart,” “And So It Goes,” “Prison Song” and “Homeward Through the Haze,” among others) before … yep. The same-old, same-old ego-conflicts arose. “It would have been the best album we ever made,” Crosby told writer Johnny Rogan.

Winterland Reunion, then, is a hint of what could have been. On October 4th, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young convened on stage following a Manassas concert. What a show! On the surface, the all-acoustic performance is a ragged affair, but the undertow is strong enough to pull you in. “There’s no preparation. You’re getting it as it comes,” explains Nash before Stills launches  into the night’s closing song, “Change Partners.”

In short: What a show!

One highlight is Neil’s “Human Highway,” during which he and Stephen trade off verses. Other highlights: “Wooden Ships,” “Blackbird,” “As I Come of Age”…uh, wait. Let’s do it another way: See the track listing up above? Those are the highlights! Really. Soundwise, this is superb, with its only drawback being inexplicable one- or two-second drop-outs during a few of the songs.

The electric “Down by the River” – from The Music Scene in 1969–is another revelation, yet another example of the foursome at the peak of their powers. (A)