Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Freakin’ phenomenal. That, in a nutshell, sums up the latest single from Rylie Bourne. It conjures the outlaw country ethos of yore, with a taut rhythm, stinging guitar, and confessional lyrics that are equal parts self-reflection and self-recrimination. “You think you know who I am/but I know who I’ve been/and I don’t see that changing anyhow/I haven’t walked the line/not the way I’m supposed to/I’ve been so unkind/to ones that I am close to…”

And, of course, there’s that voice. It engulfs the soul.

In an interview with Music Central Update, Rylie explains that the song’s inspiration was a past relationship. “I was in a situation in which I could feel myself changing as a person, and not for the good. We were both unhappy and I was doing and saying things that I wouldn’t normally. I no longer felt true to myself.” (It’s an interview well worth reading, so check it out.)

To my ears, the song sounds like a lost track from Hank Williams Jr.’s Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound or The Pressure Is On. In fact, and perhaps it’s due to me listening to the tune on repeat during my morning commutes this week, but “Untrue” brought me back to a specific sonic odyssey from my own bygone outlaw days, aka the mid-‘80s. When heading home from the Penn State mothership in Happy Valley, I often ferried passengers, who paid for gas and the tolls. On this day in question, it was myself, my roommate, and two freshmen. As we pulled out of the dorm’s parking lot, I asked them, “so what kind of music do y’all like?” 

“Anything but country,” came the reply from one. The other agreed.

My roommate chuckled. He knew what was coming, if only from the glint in my eye. And, with that, I pushed a cassette into the tape deck, and the woozy title track to Hank Jr.’s Whiskey Bent staggered from the speakers. Some tapes were albums in full, but at least one was a mix – not all outlaw, but it was all country and country-flavored – Lone Justice, Flying Burrito Brothers, Jason & the Scorchers, possibly Dwight Yoakam.

“Untrue” would have fit right in. It’s traditional, rebellious, country and rock. It smokes.

Australian country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers returns to her roots on this, her 12th studio outing. In the press release announcing it, she explained that “I grew up in the remote outback of Australia living a unique lifestyle isolated from civilization. The campfire was the heart of our existence: for survival, creativity, inspiration. We hunted all our own food and then cooked it on the campfire. My brother and I did all our schooling via correspondence around the campfire. We used the campfire for warmth and light. We gathered around the campfire at night to play songs together as a family. Our connection to music and the land has developed through and around the campfire since I was born, so it has always stayed with me as a special part of my life.”

Accompanying her: Brandon Dodd of Grizzlee Train, who’s been part of Kasey’s touring ensemble for a few years now; Alan Pigram of the Pigram Brothers, a longtime family friend and Aussie indigenous elder; and the man who led her family into the outback all those years ago, her dad, Bill Chambers. Guitars often chug along, a harmonica wails, and voices come together as one or, as often, with a call-and-response that’s as joyous to hear as it must have been to sing. About the only thing missing: a campfire crackling in the background.

But make no mistake: This isn’t a collection of stereotypical campfire songs, many of which are kid-friendly sing-alongs that date to the 18th and 19th centuries. (Think “Home on the Range,” “Bingo Was His Name-O” and “The Hokey Pokey,” which I recall singing on a fifth-grade camp weekend.) No, by and large, these songs address such topics as life, love, longing, death, and (as evidenced by the above clip) David vs. Goliath. One speaks directly to Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (“Oh we failed you Abraham, we’ve come unstuck/so many times you’ve bailed me out/oh we failed to understand and fucked it up/we laughed out loud/nobody’s laughing now…”)

Another highlight: “The Harvest & the Seed,” which features a guest appearance by Emmylou Harris.

Yet another spellbinding song is “Now That You’ve Gone.” Last year, after seeing Kasey in concert, I wrote that her vocals bypass the ears for the heart and soul – this is a good example of what I meant then. Built from the same cloth as “Ain’t No Little Girl,” it’s a vocal tour de force (and a guaranteed showstopper in concert, I think).

By album’s end, the darkness recedes with a few songs one can actually imagine singing with kids around a campfire – “This Little Chicken,” the metaphoric “Fox & the Bird,” and “Happy.” They’re sly and fun, and further burnish what is a stellar set of songs.

In November 1972, Neil Young was gearing to go on the road for what should have been a celebratory tour – Harvest, his studio set from February, had hit No. 1 on the album charts and “Heart of Gold,” its first single, went to No. 1, as well. And it wasn’t just any tour, but his first non-CSNY headlining arena tour.

The band he built to support him included Ben Keith, Jack Nitzche, Tim Drummond and Kenny Buttrey, and was to have also included Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, who’d provided incendiary backing on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and the tours that preceded and followed that essential LP. “Backing” is a bit of a misnomer, however. At their zenith, their guitars intertwined to the point that they seemed and sounded almost as if they were one; and Whitten’s vocals provided a warm bed for Neil’s oft-reedy lead.

Danny was a junkie, however, and it quickly became apparent during rehearsals that he couldn’t keep up with the rest of the band. Neil sent him packing, reportedly giving him $50 and a plane ticket home. As Neil told Cameron Crowe in 1975, “He was too out of it. Too far gone. I had to tell him to go back to L.A. ‘It’s not happening, man. You’re not together enough.’ He just said, ‘I’ve got nowhere else to go, man. How am I gonna tell my friends?’ And he split. That night the coroner called me from L.A. and told me he’d ODed. That blew my mind. Fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible.”

As documented by the Time Fades Away album, and a myriad of unofficial recordings, the tour that followed wasn’t Neil’s best. Some performances were good if not great, of course, but by and large most shows were perfunctory, if not pallid, affairs. It wasn’t just that he was grieving a friend. He blamed himself for what happened: if he hadn’t fired him, maybe Whitten would’ve lived. That guilt – misplaced though it was – weighed on him. (The reality is that the only person responsible for Danny’s death was Danny.) Fast-forward to June 1973, when another cohort – CSNY roadie Bruce Berry – died from a heroin overdose.

A few months later, Neil gathered a group of like-minded souls, aka the Santa Monica Flyers (Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, and Crazy Horse’s Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina), at Studio Instrument Rentals, aka SIR, which was owned by Bruce’s brother Ken, and set out to eulogize his late friends while simultaneously exorcising his grief and guilt. Neil recalled in the Times-Contrarian, “We had nine songs and played them twice a night for a long time until we thought we had them.” Those tracks formed the heart of what became Neil’s most intense album, Tonight’s the Night, which was released in 1975. As he also told Crowe, “If you’re gonna put a record on at 11:00 in the morning, don’t put on Tonight’s the Night. Put on the Doobie Brothers.”

Which leads to ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live. Neil explains in the liner notes that “We had finished recording and decided to celebrate with a gig at a new club opening on the Sunset Strip, the ROXY. We went there and recorded for a few nights, opening the ROXY. We really knew the Tonight’s the Night songs after playing them for a month, so we just played them again, the album, top to bottom, two sets a night for a few days. We had a great time.” 

ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live isn’t as intense as the Tonight’s the Night acetate or the 1975 album that many fans, including me, know like the back of our hands. It’s still a wake, still celebratory and sad at once, and still loose – but not quite as loose. (The tequila likely wasn’t flowing as freely.) “The faster you drink, the better we play,” quips someone – Nils Lofgren, maybe? – just prior to the band introductions, but it’s a misdirection. The band reaches for and hits every note and chord it’s supposed to, and does so with practiced precision.

One example: The opening “Tonight’s the Night.”

Another: “Speakin’ Out,” which features a great guitar solo from Nils Logren. The song is about seeking solace in the arms of another, and in a new life: “I’ve been a searcher/I’ve been a fool/But I’ve been a long time coming to you/I’m hoping for your love to carry me through/You’re holding my baby and I’m holding you/and it’s alright.”

“Albuquerque” is another highlight. The performance is less woozy and more meticulous than the TTN rendition, but no less powerful. Neil explains in the intro that he wrote it while on the Time Fades Away tour: “I’ve been flyin’/down the road/and I’ve been starvin’ to be alone/and independent from the scene/I’ve known.”

If you listened to any of those (official) YouTube clips, you’ll have heard the stellar audio of the recording. As someone who whiled away more time than I care to recall listening to umpteenth-generation tapes and audience recordings of shows from the Tonight’s the Night tour (including some that this set is drawn from) – wow. It’s astonishing how crystal clear everything is.

The set’s power also comes from Neil and the Santa Monica Flyers performing for an audience. At SIR, in a sense, they turned some songs into seances. But at the ROXY, they’re no longer trying to contact the dead. Instead, they’re doing what Neil sings about in “Speakin’ Out” – connecting with others. Sharing one’s grief helps to lessen one’s grief, oddly.

Anyway, if you’re a hardcore Neil fan, ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live is a no-brainer. If you’re a casual fan who maybe found the boozy atmospherics of the Tonight’s the Night album a tad off-putting…give this one a go on Apple Music or Spotify, or even YouTube. It’s not as boozy, or woozy. It’s less a wake, now that I think about it, and more an acceptance of life in all its many facets – the good, the bad, and the in-betweens.

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.