Classic Rock Review

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Neil Young, Chrome Dreams II (2007)

By Alexis Petridis @ The Guardian

There is a strain of Neil Young devotee that has more in common with the crossword buff than with other music fans. Like those whose week feels incomplete unless they’ve been driven to distraction by Azed or Araucaria, they thrive on a kind of bewilderment, and bewildering people is one of Young’s specialities. Said fans had a rough time in the 1990s, when Young hardly did anything bewildering at all. The famous Baffling Inner Logic that previously governed his actions had apparently been laid to rest: Young seemed set on seeing out his career by alternating Crazy Horse-fuelled hard rock with untaxing acoustic albums.

But in the new millennium, the Baffling Inner Logic came back with a vengeance. We’ve had both a virulent post-9/11 pro-war album, Are You Passionate?, and a virulent post-9/11 anti-war album featuring a choir, Living With War. Six months after Living With War came its follow-up: exactly the same album with the choir removed. He made a film, Greendale. Like every other film by Young, it made no sense whatsoever. There was a Greendale stage show, too, featuring lip-synching actors and interpretative dance: nothing, after all, screams out for interpretative dance quite like the lumbering din of Crazy Horse.

Even among sexagenarian rock cranks, Young cuts an antic figure. By contrast, Lou Reed is painfully eager to please, Bob Dylan but the hapless puppet of his record label. He makes Van Morrison look like Gary Wilmott. In Young’s head it presumably makes perfect sense that his latest effort should be a belated follow-up to a 30-year-old album that he never actually released in the first place. With a tracklist featuring Like a Hurricane, Powderfinger, Pocahontas, Look Out for My Love and the devastating ballad Stringman, Chrome Dreams could have been Young’s strongest album of the 70s, but in a ripe example of the Baffling Inner Logic at work, he scrapped it in favour of his worst album of the 70s, the half-baked American Stars ‘n Bars. The only thing Chrome Dreams II seems to have in common with its predecessor is a multiplicity of styles: raging rock songs sit alongside gentle country.

It also features Shining Light, one of the 60s soul-influenced numbers Young occasionally releases in order to remind listeners that his voice sounds deeply weird when singing 60s soul-influenced numbers: it’s as if a session at Alabama’s legendary Muscle Shoals studio has been gatecrashed by a lovelorn Muppet.

Its opening three songs are plucked from his vast back catalogue of unreleased material. The heart doesn’t exactly leap at the prospect of Beautiful Bluebird, which failed to make the cut for 1985’s hopeless foray into Nashville schmaltz, Old Ways – it turns out to be slight but pretty – and he makes rather a pig’s ear of Boxcar, famed among bootleggers as the highlight of yet another unreleased album, 1988’s Times Square. The original arrangement consisted solely of Young’s electric guitar, clearly being played at enormous volume, but here there’s a straightforward country backing. It’s still a fine song, but much thrilling, spooked intensity has been lost in translation.

Both pale next to Ordinary People, which went unreleased for two decades. You have to be either supremely confident or hugely misguided to believe that any song warrants taking up 18 minutes of your listeners’ lives, but nothing here feels superfluous or wasted: it races by in an exhilarating blur of gripping, witty lyrical vignettes – barflies watching a Las Vegas title fight, homeless squatters occupying the derelict factory in which they used to work, a hustler “tryin’ to help the people get the drugs to the street” – blasting brass arrangements and guitar solos that sound like anger boiling over. Perversely, Ordinary People is so extraordinary that you wonder at the wisdom of its inclusion here. It’s fit to stand alongside anything Young has ever recorded, but it’s also 20 years old, which casts the recent material that follows in an unforgiving light.

Another extended work-out, No Hidden Path, is four minutes shorter, half as inventive and feels five times as long. The Believer and Spirit Road pass unmemorably. But just when the listener starts reflecting on Young’s waning abilities, two songs arrive that suggest the fire is far from out. Dirty Old Man offers impossibly grizzled punk: the guitars don’t sound distorted so much as decomposed, Young’s voice fights to be heard above the sludge, but there’s something gleeful about the delivery that suggests a sneaking affection for the song’s lecherous, alcoholic protagonist.

Finally there’s The Way. Gentle, piano-driven and meditative, it comes with both a gorgeous tune and a whopping caveat: the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Inviting a childrens’ choir to needlessly dunk a beautiful song in syrup is a cussed, bewildering move. A certain strain of Neil Young fan would expect nothing less.

· This article was amended on Wednesday October 17 2007. The legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios are not in Memphis, Tennessee, but in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This has been corrected.

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May 12, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Chrome Dreams II | | Leave a comment

Neil Young – Chrome Dreams II (2007)

From BBC Music

Way back in the mid-70s Neil Young planned to release an album by the name of Chrome Dreams. Then it vanished from the schedules, another victim to the whims of Young and his mercurial muse. It’s this very adherence to going whichever way the wind blows in his mind that makes him such a fascinating and frustrating artist. That, and the seasoned Neil-watcher’s knowledge that eventually he may release the material. Hence the (humorous) title of this album: Like the original, which veered between the dreamy fireside folk of “Will To Love” and the anguished love cry of “Like A Hurricane”, number two has something of just about every side of the man known as ‘Shakey’.

He’s returned to the co-production skills of Niko Bolas with whom, as the ‘Volume Dealers’ he made 1989’s Freedom, widely regarded as his first return to form after his 80s wilderness years. Indeed, Chrome…could be his first consistently great album since the late 90s. With trusty compadres Ben Keith on steel guitar and Crazy Horse’s Ralph Molina on drums, it turns out that several of the songs here have been maturing in the vaults until deemed ripe enough for the public.

Beautiful Bluebird; its mellow country intro reminding you of “Out On The Weekend” from the halcyon Harvest years, dates from the Old Ways sessions, while the centrepiece is the awesome “Ordinary People” which dates back to Freedom. A companion piece to “Crime In The City”, it returns Neil to the role of modern social commentator. But at over 18 minutes it also allows him to really wring the neck of his old Gibson Les Paul. As such it’s bound for a place in his ‘classic’ canon.

The journey from here on in is a little bumpier. Having so many sides to you can mean that unless you’re a fan of every note he’s recorded it can get testing. “Dirty Old Man” is a page from his Ragged Glory/Sleeps With Angels growing-old-disreputably era; “Shining Light” is one of his sugary, faux-naïve falsetto confections and closer “The Way” is impassioned, though its children’s chorus may be too sentimental for cynical English ears.

But that’s Neil, he’s never less than honest and true to his own personal vision. After Living With War’s protest cries, Chrome…is an album about pure humanity. A subject he’s always going to be comfortable with. From hayseed hero to angry axe god; Chrome Dreams II will warm your heart. It’s all still here.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Chrome Dreams II | | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck: Jeff (2003)

From CloudsandClocks.net

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to read the text from a heated discussion: a thread that had appeared in a USA Forum. The topic? “What happened to guitar solos?” Of course, most of the arguments were quite predictable, just like the sighs for a long-gone era. There were also many examples, some quite well-known, others that weren’t. This discussion came back to me a few days later, when I turned my faithful radio on (it’s always tuned to the radio station from the nearby NATO base) and I had the chance to listen to: Godsmack, Rage Against The Machine, The White Stripes, Staind, Black Sabbath, Saliva and Queens Of The Stone Age (what was missing? Audioslave, Tool, Mars Volta?). It’s pretty obvious that, when confronted with this scenario, some would say: “Come back, Zep, all is forgiven”. Quite a few have said it, in fact: How The West Was Won – the triple CD of unreleased Led Zeppelin live tapes – went straight to number one the day it came out. Sure, the “guitar solo” topic is a heated one. What “playing guitar” means, too. And if we keep in mind that for some people Kurt Cobain or Thurston Moore are good guitar players… well, the situation is pretty hopeless (in England is even worse!).
Inventive intros, moody solos that are always on the edge, highly original timbres: these are the qualities that have always been peculiar to Jeff Beck since his Yardbirds days – almost forty years ago! -, not the “long, self-indulgent” solos that many nowadays love to hate. So I was more than a bit perplexed when some guys called him “a metal player” the first time I had the opportunity to catch him live, one night in 1998. He had been silent since Guitar Shop from 1989 – I’m not counting Frankie’s House and the like. Beck (that’s his name, right?) took the stage with the support of a “black house” rhythm section and of Jennifer Batten’s Midi (and so “orchestral”) guitar. The following year, Who Else! offered a varied program, highlighting the “explosive with finesse” atmosphere of that concert (What Mama Said, Brush With The Blues, Blast From The East, Space For The Papa), and so those techno/hip hop rhythms. This choice was confirmed in the Pro Tools dimension of You Had It Coming (2001), a short album that seemed to be somewhat boring (or was it Beck that had become bored while working on it?).
The new album, Jeff, brings good news. Those who hate the “versatile rigidity” of the machines will not enjoy it: there is a “real” rhythm section (Dean Garcia and Steve Barney) which sounds pretty much like a mechanical one, lotsa loops. But the variety of approaches by different producers makes this CD varied and quite easy to enjoy – on very different levels. There is a lot of blues, at times literally. David Torn manipulates two tracks (Plan B and Line Dancing With Monkeys), with very good results. JB’s Blues sees the instrumental participation of Tony Hymas, just like the explosive Why Lord Oh Why, which closes the album. My Thing successfully updates James Brown, while Pay Me No Mind (Beck himself on vocals!) pays homage to Cliff Gallup. True, some things are not so successful, and Hot Rod Honeymoon borders on novelty. But since for Jeff Beck the real proof on the music is on a stage, and a record should only be an approximation or a souvenir…
(To promote this “techno” CD Jeff Beck is now on tour with Tony Hymas and Terry Bozzio.)

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Jeff Beck Jeff | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Fork In The Road (2009)

From BBC Music

Old Shakey gives us a garage record in the true sense of the word. On the verge (isn’t he always?) of finally giving all those fans his huge first volume of Archives he gets sidetracked again. One suspects that he’s chuckling at the ire that’s flashing across fan messageboards. Call him perverse, but you’ll never get quite what you expect from Neil Young. So in the place of a hazy trawl through his halcyon days in Laurel Canyon, we get a stripped back, underproduced road movie of an album; all eco-ire and ornery fun.

Inspired by his long term hobby of tinkering with vintage automobiles, he and a friend decided to convert a 1959 Lincoln Continental to green fuel substitutes and then drive it across the States. In amongst the fairly uptempo, four-to-the-floor chug and dirty funk of car-related fare such as Johnny Magic (a strangely backing vocal-ed tribute to his partner in grime: Jonathan Goodwin), Get Behind The Wheel and the title track we get a few broadsides at the state of the economy (Cough Up The Bucks). Only Just Singing A Song appraoches his more pastoral side,

Much like Greendale or Living With War this is Neil just following his muse because he can and screw the critics. The results may not be pretty (one suspects that despite Prairie Wind’s gentle flow, Neil doesn’t really like to do pretty any more). There’s little of his wild fretboard explorations either. But as companion piece to greater, more focussed work like Sleeps With Angels, this rusty bit of rock buffs up quite nicely.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Fork In The Road | | Leave a comment

Neil Young, Living With War (2006)

By Alexis Petridis @ The Guardian

Neil Young is rock’s great floating voter. As befits a man nicknamed Shakey, his political vacillations are legendary. In the early 1970s, he savaged Nixon on Ohio and Ambulance Blues, then decided he felt sorry for the disgraced president and, two years later, wrote Campaigner to prove it. This turned out to be merely an amuse bouche for the main course of the 1980s, when Young unexpectedly metamorphosed into Norman Tebbit. Ronald Reagan and nuclear weapons were apparently a good thing, the welfare system less so. Then there was Aids, about which Young pronounced himself very concerned. Not with research or healthcare, but with the prospect of “a faggot” working in the fruit and veg department of his local supermarket: “You don’t want him to handle your potatoes,” he counselled. By 1989, when the threat posed by homosexuals touching his King Edwards had presumably abated, Young had turned once more, socking it to Bush Sr on Rockin’ in the Free World.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Young was initially hawkish, writing the Give-War-a-Chance anthem Let’s Roll and supporting the Patriot Act, but the war in Iraq prompted another volte-face. Last month, he wrote and recorded an entire album in nine days, protesting both the war and Bush Jr’s presidency.

However, the most pressing question Living With War raises for long-term Young fans is less political than musical. Young is the kind of venerable artist whose classic work is so important and influential that it casts a rosy glow over his more recent output. Everything he releases is greeted as a startling return to form, but the truth is that he hasn’t made a great album since 1995’s Sleeps With Angels. For 10 years now, he has seemed to be a man coasting towards retirement. It would be nice if Living With War’s speedy, reactive gestation indicates Young rousing himself from a decade of cosy torpor.

That’s certainly the impression given by the album’s opener, After the Garden. It sounds like a sparser take on Crazy Horse’s thud-and-blunder approach, with the surprise addition of a 100-piece choir. It surges unstoppably, which is more than you can say for much of Young’s recent work. The challenge of writing songs designed to lodge immediately in people’s heads seems to have forced Young to come up with strong melodies, something else noticeably absent in his oeuvre of late. The lyrics are surprisingly great throughout: affecting when they’re dealing with specifics, as on Flags of Freedom’s depiction of a young girl watching her Iraq-bound brother parade through town, then scabrous and witty when sloganeering. “But thank God he’s cracking down on steroids,” sniffs Young, drily, after detailing the umpteen charges against Bush on Let’s Impeach the President. “Someone walks among us and I hope he heeds the call,” he sings on Lookin’ For a Leader. “Maybe it’s a woman or a black man after all.”

It would be wrong to describe Living With War as an unqualified success. There’s the sense that Young decided to book the choir first, then worry about what to do with them. The force of their voices thrills on Let’s Impeach the President and Restless Consumer, and it’s a hard heart that remains unmoved by America the Beautiful, but they lurk unnecessarily around the whole album, as if he ran out of ideas but was determined to get his money’s worth.

The wisdom of Young’s decision to employ a trumpet player is similarly debatable. You can see the logic – trumpets sound martial, bellicose and so on – but the title track opens with what can only be described as the trumpet duelling with Young’s corrosive guitar. It’s a new entry in the chart of all-time most horrible sounds on a Neil Young record, up there with him whinnying through a vocorder on Trans and the here-come-de-Lilt-man Caribbean accent that he adopted during 1979’s Live Rust.

However, perhaps examining Living With War too closely misses the album’s point. Recorded in a hurry, rush- released on the internet, it is clearly not intended as a lasting entry in the Young canon, more a jolt designed to cause the kind of trouble on which Young thrived in his confrontational youth. It seems to have worked both ways: Fox News are baying for his blood, while a fortnight ago, he could be seen parrying questions on CNN and looking like he was having the time of his life. On Living With War, he sounds that way, too.

Of course, on past form, Young could easily change his mind and turn Republican next month. But for now, as he bellows about the “stinkin’ war”, and wrenches one corrosive solo after another from his guitar, cosy retirement seems a long way off.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Living With War | | Leave a comment

Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel DVD (2006)

From Musicboxonline.com

The legend of Gram Parsons was cemented almost immediately after his death in 1973 when tour manager and friend Phil Kaufman stole his body from the Los Angeles International Airport and attempted to cremate it in Joshua Tree National Park. The myth and mystery surrounding that unfortunate incident long have overshadowed Parsons’ life and his music, both of which have had a significant impact upon an array of contemporary country and alt-country artists. In his documentary Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel, German director Gandulf Hennig takes a chronological approach to telling Parsons’ story.

Throughout Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel, friends and band mates alike give detailed accounts of Parsons’ work in The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers and as a solo artist, while his family and hometown pals provide insight into his upbringing as well as his family traumas. This includes the rampant alcoholism of his stepfather and his parents, his father’s suicide, and his mother’s death from cirrhosis of the liver. All of these form the backdrop for Parsons’ own story, which, in some respects, is one of privilege and excess, and in others, is one of dedication and inspiration. In the opening moments of Fallen Angel, former Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers band mate Chris Hillman summarizes Parsons’ life best by declaring that it was comprised of the stuff of a Tennessee Williams’ play.

In these ways, Fallen Angel answers many questions about Parsons the man, while also lending a voice to both sides of the argument about his motivations and his wishes. Hennig gives both Phil Kaufman and Parsons’ sisters a chance to sound off on the notorious attempted cremation. He also allows Keith Richards and Chris Hillman to have their say about Parsons’ departure from The Byrds in order to hang out with the Rolling Stones in London. On the other hand, he shies away from other lingering uncertainties, such as the details of Parsons’ relationship with singer Emmylou Harris. Overall, however, Hennig effectively explores Parsons’ musical journey, his influences, his battles with drugs and alcohol, and his untimely and truly tragic death, and in the process, he creates a portrait of Parsons that digs deeper than anything that has come before it.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Gram Parsons Fallen Angel DVD | , | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix: Blue Wild Angel (2002)

From Sputnikmusic.com

Jimi Hendrix. Where would we be in music without him? Probably the equivalent to the human race a few thousand years ago: sitting in a cave, picking lice off of each other and staring at fire like it was a giant monster prepared to devour us all. The year was 1970, and needlessly to say, Jimi was most likely the best guitarist in the world, or at least the most innovative. This concert marks the band’s return to England after about 2 years, and was it one hell of a return. Packed with new songs, new tricks and a new bass player, how could it not be?

The album starts out with an announcement of the band, and the cheers of the audience, which are surprisingly awake considering their later start time of around 3 a.m. The band tunes up, and Jimi tells the crowd to stand up, for their country (or *** them), as he goes into an interesting version of God Save the Queen packed with all that jazz that he was famous for. Then they go into a little bit of a jam version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which is phenomenal. Jimi plays both guitar parts amazingly while singing at the same time. Spanish Castle Magic opens up what could be called the “real” set. I personally prefer this version much to the studio one. The lyrics sound even more spacey, and the performance is much more emotive. They then go into All Along the Watchtower, the Bob Dylan classic. Again, I like this version much better than the studio one. The absence of the rhythm guitar and Jimi playing the bass is not even noticed.

Next is possibly one of the greatest songs ever written ever. Machine Gun almost completely owns the rest of the CD; in fact it could most likely be its own CD by today’s standards, running at about 22:13. The guitar and drums work so well together in this I can’t explain it, and all the while Billy keeps that awesome bass line going, with some cool fills too. The song drifts into nothing at about halfway for a drum solo, which is awesome. Then the whole band slowly comes in with Jimi playing with this awesome effect that sounds like a Wah with a Talk-Box almost. The song ends right where you began, and you fall of your cloud for the next song, Lover Man.

The previous song and the next, Freedom, are a lot alike to me, and really can be interchanged at will. If there is a real low point on this two disc album, it’s here, and on the songs after Red House. Although this is true for me, they are still good; I’ve just grown tired of them. Also, Dolly Dagger after Red House is a little better than the rest. The previously mentioned Red House is still a high point on the album, though. It’s another extended song (From 3:50 on the original to 11:37 here) and it’s really good. You really can get the blues listening to this. Hearing Jimi play, it sounds like he�s pouring his heart out.

On the next disk, it starts out with the screech of Foxey Lady. Jimi seems to feel the need to increase the time, and pitch at which he holds this note. Almost as if he wants to put the audience in pain before they finally get a more recognizable song. Jimi abruptly stops playing during the middle, and so Billy and Mitch are left to doodle around with the beat for a while before he comes back and ends the song. The next song Message To Love is almost in the veins of the second half of disk one, but a little better than the rest of them.

Now for another favourite… Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) starts off with Jimi soloing by himself for a little, until the band comes in later to back him up a little. The band fades away, and Jimi’s all alone again until he starts up the main riff, which is like a slower version of All Along The Watchtower. He then goes into an amazingly soulful solo before singing what could be my favourite Hendrix lyrics.

Example:

Hey baby, I said, where do you come from?
She points into the sky and says, with a smile on her face,
I’m coming from the land of the New Rising Sun.

It’s just hippy bliss that you must hear for yourself.

As the previous song ends, so the next begins. Ezy Ryder is a fairly well done song, while not one of my favourites. The riffs he does are pretty awesome though, and his voice is amazing. The next two songs are possibly some of his most well known. Hey Joe and Purple Haze are both done well, but you can almost tell he�s already tired of playing both of them, especially the first, so many times. I do prefer this version of Hey Joe better than the studio, but the studio version of Purple Haze is most likely better than this in my opinion.

Now for the trademark that is Voodoo Child (Slight Return). This is another amazing performance, although out of tune in some places. You can tell Jimi loved playing this song. Every performance of this to me sounds different, and this one of my favourites, possibly due to the fact that he makes this completely amazingly touching chord pattern at the end that I like. (Can you tell I like it?).

The concert ends with In From The Storm which starts with another cool drum solo by Mitch. The song is a pretty good closer, although I believe that they should have ended it with the masterpiece of Voodoo Child.

This was my first ever Hendrix album, and I never regret it. It gave me a wider scope than any of his studio albums could of what he was capable of. If you like Hendrix, I would recommend this to you. If you want to get into Hendrix, than you might prefer something like Are You Experienced or Smash Hits, but I like this loads better.

Pros:

-All of the musicians are amazing. Mitch really shows off what he can do, and Billy proves himself to England quite well.

-Hoorah for Wah!

-It’s Jimi!

Cons:

-Some parts may get tiresome.

-You can’t always listen to Jimi Hendrix, you really need to be in the mood.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Blue Wild Angel | | Leave a comment

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Live At Monterey (2007)

From Uncut magazine

For many years, only a mad person would have entered the world of rock by collecting the music of Jimi Hendrix. Considering he’s one of the most important and exciting and so on figures in the history of popular music, his back catalogue was largely in worse order than that of, say, Candyflip.

From virtual bootlegs to identical re-reisssues, Hendrix’s legacy was all but dumped in a skip over the years. Recently, things have got better. The catalogue has been treated with some respect and a worldwhere we can get Hendrix’s performance of “Sunshine Of Your Love” on the Lulu show is surely a good one.

And now we have the Monterey appearance. This live show from 1967 is probably Jimi’s most together, hit-crammed and enjoyable recorded gig (and he even set fire to his guitar). Other shows are louder, contain more rarities, and longer guitar breaks, but Monterey was recorded when both festivals and Jimi were younger, faster and more ebullient. Hendrix here talks more than Billy Bragg before each number and, for the only time on a live recording, seems cheerful rather than stoned-cool.

Live At Monterey has been with us before – once the year of Hendrix’s death, in truncated form on a shared LP with Otis Redding, and more recently on a CD with a cover that was bad even for a Hendrix reissue (wrong burning axe!). And now it comes along in better nick, with a special stereo mix by Eddie Kramer, which doesn’t sound that different to last time around but is nice and clear and takes us away from the ’60s mud of much of Hendrix’s work.

The only hard-to-understand part is Brian Jones’s introduction, and that’s due to drug lag rather than recording quality. And it’s very good, from its delivery of Jimi’s hits (a snappy”Purple Haze”) and other people’s (a thunderously languid Like A Rolling Stone) to its wholesale devastation of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing”. Both brilliant Hendrix starter pack and summary of everything great about his music (“Killing Floor” still sounds like an avalanche onfire), this is something everyone should own.

DAVID QUANTICK

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Live At Monterey | | 1 Comment

The Uncut Album Review: Neil Young – Fork In The Road (2009)

From Uncut magazine

Of all the devastating put-downs in his arsenal (Joan Baez, you’ll remember he said, was “like a lamp”), Bob Dylan reserved his most poisonous dart for another of his contemporaries, Phil Ochs. “You’re not a folk singer,” he pronounced, damningly. “You’re a journalist.” A terrible insult in any language, certainly, but here one with genuinely crushing power. Folk songs, after all, survive for generations. Pieces of journalism can, at best, hope to survive until the following morning’s edition.

Enduring songs, political songs, songs which aren’t meant to last long at all… one would imagine that all of the above, and more have lately been on Neil Young’s mind. Recently engaged on the first installment of the career retrospective Archives set, Neil Young has lately had his attention on his past: what has been proved to be of enduring value, what’s worth editing out, and what, in fact, is best left unsaid. In every respect, Fork In The Road – a brief, bracing, at times very funny garage-rock blast – is the absolute opposite of such an enterprise.

As with its closest precedent, the brief, bracing, garage rock blast of 2006’s Living With War, what’s on offer here is not Neil Young the shy, meditative, folk singer we’ve lately heard emoting from newly released archival recordings. Instead, this is the work of a man who has – again, so soon – been moved by current events to put something down on paper. If Young’s 2009 subject matter makes him a journalist, so does his method. This is no florid essay, but rather angry editorial banged out on a tight deadline, with little regard for the niceties of technique.
The subject matter of the piece? That, though not quite as boldly signposted as in Living With War, is still announced pretty plainly. The subject is the recession, and it’s a topic Young chooses to address using one of his most consuming passions as a barometer of the situation: cars.

There are moments in the album which tackle the economy more overtly (“Cough Up The Bucks”, in which he asks, simply, “Where did all the money go?”; the highly amusing album closer “Fork In The Road”, in which Young opines in caustic, Mark E Smith style that “There’s a bailout coming/But it’s not for me…”, and tells us to “Keep on blogging/Until the power goes out…”). Elsewhere, however, the car is, undoubtedly, the star.
Track four, “Johnny Magic” sets the tone, an elegy for a time when a guy could, as in a road movie, fill a preposterously long automobile with cheap gasoline, and head out on the road (“He met destiny/In the form of a heavy metal Continental/Born to run on the proud highway…”). It’s not mourning the act of driving itself, so much as it is the death of what it used to represent.

In Young’s telling here, what formerly spoke of independence, the search for a new start, even freedom, has by 2009 become a guilty pleasure (“Then the world started running out of money…”), and even a political act. After all, does the US not now fight wars for this gasoline?
Driving and cars are everything on Fork In The Road. Sometimes, as on “Hit The Road” they’re agents of environmental pollution (“Bumper to bumper/In a giant cloud of fumes…”). Sometimes, as on “Get Behind The Wheel”, they seem to serve as what sounds like a double entendre (“She always wants to please you/No matter what shape you’re in…”). Sometimes, as on “Fuel Line”, they’re journeying, battery powered, to the future.

Over all, you wonder if it’s a supremely intelligent way to connect with a middle American audience whose No 1 pre-election priority was not solving the war but the restarting of the economy, and a country whose auto industry is in terminal crisis. Remember the guy in the CSNY film who walked out during “Let’s Impeach The President”, saying the band could “suck my dick”? Neil wants him back on board, and perhaps cars is how he thinks he’s going to speak to him.

If that person favours the smoking, ragged garage rock that comprises the bulk of Fork In The Road, then you’d have to conclude, job done. While seemingly banged down in real time, the album contains a good deal of wry muttering, plenty of fine riffs (particularly the opening “When Worlds Collide”) and some surprisingly sophisticated backing vocals. If Young’s own car graveyard is going to remain a charming rock-star’s folly rather than a painful economic metaphor, the journey (this researcher into electric cars seems to be saying) must be forwards, powered by green fuels.

Early on in the LP, the wonderful “Just Singing A Song” – a languid, classic Neil groover – had suggested that for all the good tunes, and good intentions, all this kind of rock’n’roll protest can’t do much to change the world. So where does this leave Fork In The Road? A set of enduring classics? Or simply journalism? Either way: hold the front page.

JOHN ROBINSON

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Fork In The Road | | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jimi Hendrix Valleys of Neptune (2010)

36m5From AllAboutJazz.com

Given Jimi Hendrix’s stature as one of the all-time greatest rock guitarists, the release of any new, previously unreleased material from the 40-years-dead guitar god tends to be cause for celebration. And why the hell not? Much of his barrel-bottom scrapings have more soul in them than the master cuts of more skillful axe-wankers. If you’re going to bliss out on wankery, there were few better practitioners of the art than Jimi Hendrix.

Concurrently, given that more vault material from Hendrix has seen the light of day than artist-authorized, finished recordings, it’s also cause for scrutiny.

Now, I’m not a serious Hendrix bootleg collector, so I can’t speak for the true “rarity” status of any of the material comprising Valleys of Neptune, the first release under the Hendrix estate’s new partnership with Sony’s Legacy imprint. I can tell you, however, that if you’ve bought any of the compilations that Hendrix’s official imprint, Experience Hendrix, has released over the past 13 years via MCA/Universal, you’re already going to be familiar with different versions of up to eleven of the album’s twelve tracks.

The majority of Valleys was recorded between February and May of 1969, which was basically the last gasp of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience. Jimi broke that band up for a reason, so, how much you’ll enjoy this album ultimately depends on how much you already like Hendrix, and how much tolerance you have for hearing familiar songs played in variations that, as you’d probably guess, aren’t quite as assured and confident in their presentation as the classic master recordings.

One song in particular that falls into the latter category to these ears is the one song that has already gained the most attention – “Valleys of Neptune.” Given that Hendrix returned to this recording for some sweetening in May of 1970 after initially laying it down the previous September, it’s a wonder he didn’t try to rerecord it entirely. But then again, the songs he had lined up for First Rays of the New Rising Sun were on a whole different level in terms of feel, energy and themes, and if you’ve heard those tunes, it’ll be clearly evident why Hendrix would have left “Valleys” to collect dust.

On top of this, we get to hear interesting but, again, relatively energy-deficient takes on old stand-bys like “Fire” and “Red House,” a funkier arrangement of Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart” that foreshadows the awesome First Rays track “Dolly Dagger,” and an over-long instrumental take on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” that was more concisely and entertainingly presented on the 1998 BBC Sessions compilation.

And in the “truth in advertising” department, let’s also call the “new” unearthed tracks “Ships Passing Through the Night” and “Lullaby For the Summer” exactly what they are – embryonic, early versions of “Night Bird Flying” and “Ezy Rider,” respectively. These are fascinating takes, to be sure, but by the time we get to the final track, the lazy instrumental “Crying Blue Rain,” the lingering question becomes: “why didn’t the Hendrix family use the discovery of this cache of material as an excuse to repackage First Rays of the New Rising Sun with revised cover art reflective of what Hendrix himself actually sketched out (documented in Steven Roby’s Black Gold biography), along with these recordings as a ‘bonus’ disc?” Of course, that could be the big plan for the 50th anniversary of his death, but hey, who knows how these folks think?

As we’d hope though, there definitely is a silver lining here, besides the mere fact that it’s Hendrix. The true gem on Valleys of Neptune is a seven-and-a-half minute studio take on what might be the perennial latter day Hendrix concert staple, “Hear My Train A Comin’” – for the first time on an official release, we have a studio version of this classic that can stand on its own alongside the definitive live version we’ve known via its appearances on the 1971 Rainbow Bridge album and the 1994 Blues collection that has earned its place among the best posthumous Hendrix albums.

Fascinating as Valleys of Neptune might be for the serious Hendrix fan, everyone else would do better to go back and rediscover the aforementioned Blues and First Rays of the New Rising Sun collections. After all, the guy’s been dead longer than most of you and your friends have been alive, so it hardly comes as a surprise that most of the primo recordings are already out there somewhere.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Valleys Of Neptune | | Leave a comment