Posts Tagged ‘Neil Young’

I’ve been holding off on writing about Neil Young’s Archives Vol. II, which was released on November 20, 2020, until I finished listening to each and every of its 10 discs. For those not in the know, it covers the fertile period from 11/15/1972 through 3/10/76, when he recorded such classic albums as Tonight’s the Night, On the Beach and Zuma – and held back a treasure trove of audio delights, including the since-released Tuscaloosa and Homegrown LPs. Also recorded during the timespan: the ill-fated Stills-Young collaboration Long May You Run. In total, 63 of the 131 tracks are previously unreleased, though the bulk of those are alternate or live versions of known songs. Twelve tunes are – theoretically speaking – brand-new to our ears. (I say “theoretically” because a few, such as the tender “Sweet Joni,” have been available on bootlegs for decades.)

The original deluxe edition, which was limited to 3000 copies, sold out in a matter of hours despite its mammoth price of $249.98. A second run is now scheduled, with a release date of next March, as is a “retail edition” with a reduced price of $159.98. (The Greedy Hand store is aptly named.) Me, I’ll likely buy the set as high-resolution downloads…and, until then, enjoy it via the Neil Young Archives website and iPhone app. 

The online Archives, I should mention, is a tremendous value for both new and old fans. For those of us who, years long ago, traded tapes and CDRs on the Rust List or Human Highway email lists and/or browsed the bins of indie record stores in hopes of stumbling upon bootleg LPs and CDs…well, it’s (almost) all there. Every official release. Live sets. The first Archives box set and, now, Archives II. Plus, next year, bootlegs of bootlegs are slated to appear. And, if that’s not enough, there’s tons of video – Neil’s 1984 appearance on Austin City Limits, when he was backed by the International Harvesters, is currently available to watch. (For those curious, it’s free for the holidays – and even when it’s not…it’s only $19.99/year.)

Best of all, one can access it on one’s smartphone (Apple or Android). Most days, I’m enmeshed at my desk for anywhere from a few to 10 hours. Monday through Friday, of course, it’s for my job, while on weekends it’s for this blog – or just goofing off. When the former, and in the mood, I listen via my iPhone, either plugging it into my desktop speakers or using Bluetooth headphones. Enjoying the music in high-resolution form isn’t to be had, yet it still does its job: It makes the day go faster.

Anyway, back to the Archives II: The many plaudits it has received are well deserved; here are a few such reviews: The Everybody’s Dummy blog; The Guardian newspaper; The LA Beat; Louder Than Sound; Rolling Stone; and Ultimate Classic Rock. Among the gems that I’ve returned to time and again: “Sweet Joni,” which I’ve loved since first hearing it on the Rock ’n’ Roll Cowboy bootleg compilation many years ago, and Joni, Neil and the Stray Gators ripping through “Raised on Robbery.” You can hear a snippet of it in this trailer:

There are plenty of other treasures to be had, of course. This Zuma-era take on “Powderfinger” is one:

Whether one should splurge on either the deluxe or retail edition is really a decision best left to each fan. One factor holding me back: the inclusion of the recent archival releases Tuscaloosa, ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live and Homegrown, all of which I purchased. If you didn’t pony up the cash for them, the set makes better sense. Another factor: In my life, accompanying booklets – no matter how well done – are usually looked at once, maybe twice, and then placed back inside the box never to be seen again. (If high-resolution downloads aren’t to be had, I rip CDs as FLAC or ALAC files and listen to those.) Too, I’d rather put that $160 or $250 to supporting up-and-coming artists, most of whom are facing financial hardship.  

Anyway, as Diane can attest, I often cycle through my musical favorites – I can go months or more without playing anything by a longtime favorite simply because…well, to borrow a phrase from Neil’s erstwhile pal David Crosby, “time is the final currency.” For the last good while, for example, it’s been mostly Bruce Springsteen, Courtney Marie Andrews and Zach Phillips – but, after enjoying the Archives II for the past few weeks, I feel like it’s time to saddle up the Horse and go for a ride…

Typically, ‘round here, this time of year becomes a bacchanal of music and memories I’ve come to dub “Remember December.” There’s rhyme, reason, Christmas music and good cheer, plus best-of lists, recaps, frankincense and myrrh, not to mention a countdown of my most popular posts of the past 12 months. I jumpstarted the best-of fun in late November, of course, so there’ll be a little less of that – and no Concerts of the Year countdown – but there are plenty of other knick-knacks to stuff in the stocking. That fun begins next week. Today, however, it’s my stream-of-conscious musings about matters large and small, while tomorrow I plan to share my thoughts on the Neil Young Archives website and Neil’s mammoth Archives II set.

Anyway, this morning – as most Saturdays – I found myself in a line of cars waiting for curbside pickup at a grocery store while soaking my soul in the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. No, not his Letter to You album, though it could well have been, but an archival delight I downloaded from his Live Downloads store last year: Their 1988 concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. I began listening to it again a few weeks back – and, wow. Just wow. It’s an excellent show that features many songs from the Tunnel of Love LP, though only a handful of pre-River classics. There’s no “Badlands,” no “Promised Land,” no “Thunder Road.” “Backstreets” is present. “Born to Run” is, too, though in a slowed-down acoustic arrangement. There’s also this:

Depending upon one’s age and musical inclinations, you may or may not enjoy it. Me? I can’t get enough. Which leads to this: When the history of these times are written, what will be said? That I momentarily unfollowed someone on Twitter because she described Springsteen’s songs as “either boring or bellowing” and followed that with “I don’t care for his music”? Of course not. But, no doubt, scholars will note an uptick in such petty reactions (as mine was) to what, pre-pandemic, were minor annoyances generally ignored. Daily stresses cause that.

Joss Stone’s new single, “Walk With Me,” is a good way to relieve that tension. It’s quickly become one of my favorite songs of the year.

Of course, one reason for the overreaction to little things is that the big things, by and large, are beyond our control – the pandemic and politics. On the latter front, despite his Supreme Court loss, the tinpot despot’s nefarious plot to upend the U.S. election isn’t over yet. Now he’ll be pushing a slew of congressional prostitutes to screw the U.S. Constitution on January 6th, when Congress is scheduled to accept the Electoral College results. Their fealty to democracy is less than their fealty to cash – or, in this case, most likely the promise of cash from his new Save America PAC. (FYI: As the contractors who helped build his Atlantic City casinos discovered, he rarely pays out.)

Breath deep. Exhale. That’s what I tell myself, at any rate. And lose yourself in such cool performances as this one from Jillette Johnson. It builds and builds, but never explodes – a Mazzy Star-like rendition, if that makes sense. It’s hypnotic.

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.

 

Traditionally speaking, August is the cruelest month, accented by heat, humidity and thunderstorms. This year, however, it’s likely to be no less cruel than the months that preceded it; the Trump virus, aka COVID-19, has seen to that. As way of explanation: I found myself watching a bit of the day’s news last night; the increasing number of COVID-related deaths in the USA – 156,000 and counting – was the headline; experts are expecting exponential growth come fall, with the prospects of a quarter million or more dead by November.

Neil Young’s recasting of the Living With War song “Lookin’ for a Leader” sums up my feelings quite well: “Lookin’ for somebody/with the strength to take it on/keep us safe together/and make this country strong/walkin’ among our people/there’s someone to lead us on/lead a rainbow of colors/in a broken world gone wrong…”

In any event, each day seems the same as the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, as if Diane and I are trapped in a real-life Droste effect or, perhaps more apropos, Groundhog’s Day. Come 6am, for me, the same events play out in the same order: shower, make coffee, feed the cat, log into work, listen to music, play with the cat, log off of work, retrieve the mail, feed the cat, eat dinner, do the dishes, watch TV, placate the cat, fall into bed…and do it again tomorrow. Weekends aren’t that much different, except I work on the blog.

Yet, despite the sameness of daily existence, some good has percolated through the Internet and/or been delivered to my doorstep: the new Courtney Marie Andrews album, Old Flowers, is catharsis set to song and, as I wrote in my review, one of the best albums I’ve heard in years. Here she is on CBS This Morning performing one of its stellar tracks…

Emma Swift’s Blonde on the Tracks, another recent find, is a delight; Liane La Havas’ self-titled set is wonderful, too; and, released just yesterday, the new Natalie Duncan album, Free, is an old-fashioned stunner. I plan to write about it tomorrow, but for now here’s one of its standout tracks…

Also: The groove machine known as the Stone Foundation has a new album, Is Love Enough?, slated for a September release. The latest teaser track from it, “Deeper Love,” features Paul Weller and is the sonic equivalent to a warm bath. It’s guaranteed to take away the aches of the day…

Last: the surprise release of Folklore by you-know-who. Fans were apparently so upset that the Pitchfork review graded it an 8 out of 10 that they threatened the writer with all kinds of craziness; some even called her at home to express their displeasure. The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica also found the album a solid, not stellar, outing, setting off a similar firestorm. Me, I listened to it last Friday and thought that, like many albums of the modern age, its length was not a strength, but a hindrance. (Too much chaff, not enough wheat.) That said, the title tune is quite memorable…

(Oops… wrong “Folk Lore”!)

What else? I’m expecting the 50th anniversary edition of Roberta Flack’s First Take album any day now; here’s one of the previously unreleased songs included with it. Expect my thoughts on it next week.