Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jimi Hendrix: Blues (1994)

From The New Musical Express

For Jimi and his peers, there was no room for analysis, soul-searching or retrospection. For them, the 12-bar rhythm and the sex-frenzied solo was a direct line to the heart of perfection. And this is why, when you look in the face of the blues guitarist, it is always enveloped in the throes of orgasmic tension. It is often said that Hendrix could play the guitar in more positions than anyone else. If that isn’t a double entendre, I don’t know what is.

Jimi Hendrix was arguably the sexiest blues player that ever graced the planet. Unlike many of his mentors he didn’t look insane or wretched – instead he paraded his wares with all the psychedelic nous he could muster and dressed accordingly. And this is important because without that image, or Jimi’s balmy vocal stabs, this compilation could just be another meandering blues jam conjuring up horrifying images of university muso societies. Alas, such is the bludgeoning, all-pervasive effect of white-boy imitation.

Still, nothing can really detract from the definitive electric blues sound that Hendrix pioneered. Here, we get the upbeat impertinence of ‘Jelly 292’, the proto-metal of 1968’s ‘Electric Church Red House’, the Kravitz blueprint that is ‘Catfish Blues’ from ’67, or Hendrix’s homages to the true grass roots of the genre, ‘Hear My Train A-Comin” and the legendary ‘Red House’, the latter from ’66. The man respectfully took everything he needed, held his own, and injected his playing with a cocky youthfulness that popularised the blues in a way that no-one had ever done before.

Digital remastering might not be an exciting reason for repackaging a compilation, but the excellent Experience Hendrix series – a reissue programme designed to better benefit Hendrix’s surviving family – has again done the right thing. Sometimes, the best is history.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix :Blues | | Leave a comment

Paul McCartney Driving Rain

From BBC Music

Firstly – it is hard, of course, to approach any new product from the estimable Macca without making reference to his new main squeeze (one track is called “Heather” for goodness sake, and she gets a name check in the sleeve notes) and herein lies the problem. An awful lot of this, Sir P’s 28th album or so, is devoted to the transition between old and new loves, and when folk fret about the proper amount of time spent since Linda’s demise and his renewed passion, it may have more to do with how it actually affects his output rather than whether it offends our sense of propriety. Nobody would deny the great man a little company, but there’s nothing fires a great songwriter more than a touch of misery. The fact is that he sounds so, well, jolly contented, and perhaps a bit of lonely yearning would have made the material a little more challenging and rewarding. Let’s face it, we haven’t really had the chance to listen to a lonely Paul McCartney since about 1965.

Considered by afficianados as the third part of a trilogy to mark the end of his life with the world’s most famous vegetarian, this album is, by no means, pointless, overly sentimental or even dated. By using a bunch of fresh young American musicians and allowing some of the material to stretch out into more experimental jamming territory (“Spinning On An Axis” and the 10 minute plus “Rinse The Raindrops”), Mr Thumbs-Aloft has injected a raw urgency into his sound which really does hark back to Band On The Run days. However, in attempting to keep his sound as contemporary as possible he also falls into the strange trap of often sounding rather similar to the legions of those heavily influenced by him. Whisper it, but parts of this album sound like Crowded House.

No one can deny the true worth of a man who, even when rich as Croesus and in no need of validation, still feels the need to create and comment on the world around him (the album finishes with “Freedom”, his response to September 11th). Yet, McCartney’s cardinal fault was always a tendency to slip into cosiness and songs such as “Magic” and “I Do” serve as little more than snapshots into his own happy little world, rather than resonate with the universality of his greatest moments – though let’s hope he doesn’t stop trying.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Paul McCartney Driving Rain | | Leave a comment

Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix At The Isle Of Wight (2002)


Principally a concert film of Jimi Hendrix’s set at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, his last British date, Blue Wild Angel begins, not with the show itself, but with material gathered from several sources. We see Hendrix with Dick Cavett, at Berkeley, and at Woodstock, each image and bit of narration presumably a primer for viewing, and understanding, what happened at the Isle of Wight. Hendrix, apparently, didn’t want to go, instead preferring to remain in New York and work on his studio creations.

I am not sure if one is supposed to be more impressed with Hendrix’s Isle of Wight performance with this information than without it, but if we discount the fantastically amusing aging hippie with her bit about “fun, youth, beautiful, all are welcome” at the festival’s outset, the first genuine imparting of anything that might relate to Hendrix, that doesn’t seem somewhat contrived, occurs as we watch him make his way from his dressing room to the stage. In a long traveling shot, director Murray Lerner moves his camera when Hendrix moves, stops it when he stops, becoming blocked behind a pole, a stack of cases, continuing on to the other side. Hendrix walks as if dazed while the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” plays over the backstage speakers. A young, attractive French reporter sidles up to him, asks a truly vapid question, and receives an answer voiced like she isn’t even there. Then Hendrix, sounding more like himself, responds to the woman again, properly, closely, in a soft voice, as if she were a confidante.

A crude swish-pan and we are transported directly behind the stage where a disheveled Hendrix asks a stagehand how “God Saves the Queen” goes. The hand hums the opening, and apparently this is enough. From a filmic perspective, Blue Wild Angel is typical of its genre. Match cuts between several camera angles, a prevailing stasis within most shots, and a few “quirks” some might find slightly annoying—four thin, blue lines run the length of the frame of the chief camera angle on Hendrix’s right for the first third of the film, and scratches in the film’s surface are later visible on the screen. But Blue Wild Angel is exemplary in conveying Hendrix’s command, which is evident throughout. On a festival bill with two acts, in Miles Davis and the Who, surpassing his own artistry, Hendrix remains both consummate as a professional and unpredictable as an artist, inviting our attention. As Mitch Mitchell shambles through one of his three drum solos, Hendrix mans the stage, whispering to bassist Billy Cox, walking up to the speaker cabinets to advise a soundman, then counting the band back into ensemble mode.

As the set progresses, the cutting accelerates, showmanship and montage as a race to the finish line. Hendrix would be dead within three weeks and this is a feverish performance. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” transitions into the closing “In From the Storm,” and a blue arc light, persistently bright on the stage’s far side, is like talisman and harbinger both, dreadfully fitting.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Blue Wild Angel | | Leave a comment

Album Review: Neil Young – Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968

From Uncut magazine

On May 5, 1968, in Long Beach, California, Neil Young played his final show with Buffalo Springfield, a band he’d already left and re-joined at least twice. “I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do next,” he told me in 1989. This seemed unlikely. For someone with only a vague notion of what he was going to do, he moved decisively, quickly hiring Elliot Roberts as his manager. Roberts – on his way to becoming one of the most powerful people in the American music business – had worked briefly with the Springfield earlier in their last disputatious year together, before being sacked by Neil for playing golf when he should have been attending to the group’s multiple whims. Roberts now signed his new client to Reprise, where apart from a short and unhappy liaison with Geffen Records, Young would remain for the rest of his career. That summer, Neil started work on his first solo album.

The next step was to get Young in front of an audience, to test their reactions. In November, with the release of his debut solo album, Neil Young, now looming, two shows were booked, at Canterbury House, part of the University Of Michigan. The gigs were recorded on two-track tape, and exactly 40 years later finally see the light of the proverbial day as Sugar Mountain.

I think if I’d been there on either night, my first reaction would have been something akin to shock. From what I knew of him at the time, Young was by reputation surly and remote, inclined towards fractious discord. In pictures, he had a tendency to look sullen, a moody loner. What a flattening surprise, then, to hear him here sounding so, well, goofy, I suppose you’d say. Ten of the 23 tracks listed on Sugar Mountain are spoken word introductions, rambling asides, random observations, often hilarious anecdotes delivered in a youthfully high-pitched voice that he at one point makes fun of himself.

This awe-shucks folksiness is thoroughly disarming, as no doubt intended. Down the years, Young’s played this part to serial perfection – the straw-chewing backwoods philosopher, the bucolic savant, plain-speaking, daffy but wise, Jimmy Stewart on his way to Washington as Mr Deeds. “I never plan anything,” he says at one point, sounding baffled by his present circumstance in front all these people, some of them calling out for Buffalo Springfield songs he thought no one had even heard. But how true, you wonder, is this?

Among the Buffalo Springfield songs for which he was perhaps best known were elaborate patchworks like ‘Mr Soul’, ‘Expecting To Fly’ and ‘Broken Arrow’ (all featured here). These were post-Pepper sonic collages, painstakingly assembled during long hours of over-dubbing in the studio, which was also how much of Neil Young had been produced, a process that had left him by his own admission disenchanted. For these Canterbury Hall shows, though, there clearly would be no attempt to replicate the unreleased album’s dense arrangements, orchestral flourishes and gospel backing vocals.

This is just Neil, his voice and guitar and 13 songs, six from his Buffalo Springfield days, four from the forthcoming album, the unrecorded ‘Sugar Mountain’, an exquisite version of ‘Birds’, a song that would appear on After The Goldrush, and a brief snippet of Winterlude that barely merits a track listing of its own. In virtually every instance, these solo versions are preferable to the originals, performed with a singular confidence that suggests he may already have realised how dated when it came out aspects of Neil Young would sound, the stereo panning and overlaying of studio effects giving it an ornate fussiness that sat uneasily in the mutating musical climate of the late 60s.

What’s striking here is how cleverly Young by now had grasped the fundamental changes in American music essayed already by Dylan and The Band on John Wesley Harding and Music From Big Pink. The summer of 1968 had seen the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. A season of riot had left cities on fire across the republic and Nixon was in the White House. Dark times were getting darker. It was as if the only legitimate response to more complicated times was a new kind of simplicity. And so the precocious psychedelic technician of those Springfield epics is calculatedly recast as a soulful solo voyager whose songs spoke without undue adornment of shared apprehensions, collective uncertainties.

On songs like ‘Sugar Mountain’, ‘If I Could Have Her Tonight’ and ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’, his vulnerability is something tangible and universal. On a quartet of great Springfield songs included here – ‘Out Of My Mind’, ‘Mr Soul’, ‘Expecting To Fly’, ‘Broken Arrow’ – he expresses among other things an uneasy discomfort with fame and its hollow trappings that places him on the side of the people he’s playing to, an unchallenged alliance.

These songs and similarly intimate others like them were unquestionably personal. Young brilliantly, however, was able to make the ‘you’ of the songs not only the individual they initially were addressed to, but also the people who would shortly be buying his albums in their thousands and then millions. The ‘you’ in this instance being the plurality of his audience, spoken to as if in private conversation, with whom he shared mutual intimacies, feelings about love and loss in which his fans would increasingly hear aspects of themselves and what they were going through.

One of the pivotal songs here, I think, is the surreal ‘Last Trip To Tulsa’, which as the closing track of Neil Young would be regarded by some as an aberration, too heavily indebted to Dylan, its solo acoustic setting at odds with the rest of the album. Now, of course, its impressionistic narrative – nightmarish, absurd, paranoid, awash with grim portent – can be heard as the precursor to masterpieces to come, like ‘Ambulance Blues’ or ‘Thrasher’ and even ‘Ordinary People’, that similarly took the pulse of the nation and its people.

Sugar Mountain is a fascinating snapshot of Neil Young at a transitory moment in his long career, for which it also provides an indelible template. This is in many ways how he would sound for the next 40 years. At least, that is, when he wasn’t raging noisily with Crazy Horse, taking various detours into unadulterated country, winsome folk, synthesiser-pop, stylised rockabilly, big band R&B, grunge, electronic experimentalism, otherwise undermining convenient expectation or elsewhere meandering down the musical avenues that have at various times left fans baffled and at least one record company exasperated enough to want to sue him for not sounding enough like himself, when in fact for all this time he has sounded like no one at all but himself.


May 13, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Sugar Mountain | | Leave a comment

New album from Jeff Beck: Jeff (2003)

From The Independent

“If the voice don’t say it, the guitar will play it,” claims a female voice on “Pork-U-Pine”, one of a slew of typical Jeff Beck instrumentals on this follow-up to 1999’s Who Else!. She’s right – Beck’s guitaris more eloquent than his voice, whether he’s squeezing out an impassioned, tense piece in the vein of Norwegian jazz-rocker Terje Rypdal, or blasting his way through a showcase like “So What”, a plunging, vertiginous opening shower of guitar pyrotechnics and careening cop-siren stunt-guitar tricks. “Plan B” makes the point aptly, as Beck makes his guitar speak in a series of “talking guitar” phrases demonstrating his peerless command of touch, tone, and string-bending. This isdazzling technique that makes lesser guitarists – i.e. everyone else – pack up and take up crochet. But there’s nothing here that would pass muster as a tune: Beck’s wizardry is expressed in small clusters of apparently impossible guitar phrases, the musical equivalent of a match carelessly tossed into a box of fireworks. Acc

“If the voice don’t say it, the guitar will play it,” claims a female voice on “Pork-U-Pine”, one of a slew of typical Jeff Beck instrumentals on this follow-up to 1999’s Who Else!. She’s right – Beck’s guitaris more eloquent than his voice, whether he’s squeezing out an impassioned, tense piece in the vein of Norwegian jazz-rocker Terje Rypdal, or blasting his way through a showcase like “So What”, a plunging, vertiginous opening shower of guitar pyrotechnics and careening cop-siren stunt-guitar tricks. “Plan B” makes the point aptly, as Beck makes his guitar speak in a series of “talking guitar” phrases demonstrating his peerless command of touch, tone, and string-bending. This isdazzling technique that makes lesser guitarists – i.e. everyone else – pack up and take up crochet. But there’s nothing here that would pass muster as a tune: Beck’s wizardry is expressed in small clusters of apparently impossible guitar phrases, the musical equivalent of a match carelessly tossed into a box of fireworks. Accordingly, these 13 tracks are reliant on vocal samples or special effects; on “Hot Rod Honeymoon”, a stew of car-race effects, admiring phrases like “what a set of wheels!”, and even snatches of harmony-vocals parodying The Beach Boys’ car songs customise the fast, slippery slide guitar runs, without stamping the track with any distinctive melody. An awe-inspiring demo, but not to be played for pleasure’s sake alone.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Jeff Beck Jeff | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: How The West Was Won & DVD (2003)

2p54From The Austin Chronicle

As a notorious talk-to-the-hand band, Led Zeppelin’s rock-star megalomania bottomed out with 1976’s The Song Remains the Same, a collision of Fantasy Island and concert film that all but necessitated the birth of punk rock. “When the early punks said it was self-indulgent,” notes Robert Plant in the booklets to the Led Zeppelin DVD, referring to the band’s stage show, “they missed the point. It was the opposite: to achieve what we did onstage, it took a lot of personal restraint.”

Restraint isn’t a word that comes to mind after five hours and 20 minutes of this 2-DVD set, but neither is bollocks. When disc one cues up with the four English longhairs walking onstage at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1970, tearing into Ben E. King’s “We’re Gonna Groove” then “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” both of which became part of the band’s Coda 10 years later, it takes your breath away. Plant’s Grecian good looks, Bonzo’s Saxon attack, Jimmy Page’s long spidery fingers on 12 Middle Eastern-burnt minutes of “White Summer” conscript only John Paul Jones to the shadows of this revelatory BBC shoot.

The band bloats up for “Dazed and Confused,” “Moby Dick,” and “How Many More Times,” all double-digit in length, but at this point in their young career — they’d been together “barely a year” — improvisation underlies their stage show. An Eddie Cochran twofer in the encore, “C’mon Everybody” and “Somethin’ Else,” is as rough as it is raunchy. Thirty minutes of TV footage from Reykjavik, Iceland, the same year is even leaner, meaner.

Disc two revisits The Song Remains the Same like a bad flashback, but 50 minutes from Earls Court in 1975 turn on a pair of Physical Graffiti indelibles: “In My Time of Dying” and “Trampled Under Foot.” Led Zeppelin’s last stand, Knebworth 1979, matches Page’s pouring sweat and emaciated grit with a dream set list: “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “Sick Again,” “Achilles Last Stand,” and “In the Evening,” among others.

Bonuses include bootleg footage of “The Song Remains the Same” on the DVD menu.

How the West Was Won, a blazing 3-CD tie-in, splices together two L.A. arena gigs from 1972’s Zoso tour. Houses of the Holy is still nine months away, but “Black Dog” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” back-to-back are gonzo. New “summer song,” disc two’s “Dancing Days,” follows 25 minutes of “Dazed and Confused” and precedes 19 minutes of “Moby Dick.” Likewise, “Rock & Roll” gives way to “The Ocean” on disc three, but only after 23 minutes of “Whole Lotta Love.”

While the last five minutes of “Dazed and Confused” are almost as wicked as the movie of the same name, and Bonzo’s whale dance is totally Ahab — the interpolations on “Whole Lotta Love” fun, sly — these 67 combined minutes could’ve been better spent. In light of the DVD, the entire Earls Court performance would have sprawled Physical Graffiti nicely, while the three-hour (inadvertent) farewells at Knebworth deserve historical accounting. Next time.

For now, even punk rockers should wallow in the Led Zeppelin DVD, if only to remember the laughter.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin DVD, Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | , | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck: Emotion & Commotion (2010)

By John Kelman @

Of the three artists who emerged as “guitar gods” on the British rock scene of the 1960s—all three coming up through the same group, The Yardbirds—Jeff Beck is, more than perennial favorites Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, the one who has taken the most risks throughout his career. They don’t always work, either; on the other hand, his performance at the Ronnie Lane ARMS concert in 1983 may have been less than a resounding success, but the guitarist deserved major props for going out there and going for it, as opposed to Clapton’s classy but safe set and Page’s embarrassing attempt to turn “Stairway to Heaven” into an instrumental. All the more reason, then, for the long overdue critical and popular acclaim for Performing This Week…Live at Ronnie Scott’s (Eagle Records, 2008) and Beck’s ensuing, sold-out 2009 world tour. And all the more reason, too, to celebrate Emotion & Commotion, his first studio record in seven years.

More than most—and certainly more than Clapton and Page—Beck’s distinctly un-guitar god-like and melodic, non-poser approach to guitar has sung out with all the wrenched emotion and nuanced inflection of the human voice, and he’s never been as truly human as he is on Emotion & Commotion. It may disappoint those who prefer a harder-edged Beck but in this combination of arrangements for orchestra and guitar, cinematic originals and reinvented classics, Beck has never sounded more exposed, more fragile. He may not demonstrate the guitar pyrotechnics of his peers, but the long evolution of his distinctive tone and allegiance to the strength of melody—dating as far back as 1975’s Blow By Blow (Epic, 1975) and the enduring “‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” and, even earlier, on his surprising version of “Morning Dew” with Rod Stewart from his 1968 debut,Truth (Epic)—has, in many ways, been leading to this very point.

Interspersed with group tracks that, amongst others, feature his touring band of the past couple of years alongside guest vocalists like Joss Stone and Imelda May, are four strictly orchestrated tracks, representing some of Beck’s most painfully beautiful playing to date. Ranging from the tender traditional opener, “Corpus Christi Carol,” and Puccini’s poignant “Nessun Dorm,” to music from two films—The Wizard of Oz’s iconic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the more recent Atonement’s “Elegy for Dunkirk,” where Beck’s guitar intertwines so seamlessly with Olivia Safe’s soaring operatic vocal as to join the two together as one voice—Beck manages to find the true core of the music and of his own playing, delivered with spare elegance and unparalleled emotion.

The more electrified tracks are no less powerful. Beck seems to have found a foil, in keyboardist Jason Rebello, to transcend his late-1980s/early-1990s work with Tony Hymas. “Hammerhead” has all the edge Beck’s rockier fans love—the gritty wah-wah, searing wammy bar and ring modulated distortions—but with a riff-driven, orchestrated backbone that recalls Beck’s groundbreaking, spontaneous work with producer George Martin on Blow By Blow. Like “Hammerhead,” the funkier chill-out of “Serene” is co-written by Beck and Rebello, and combines the guitarist’s matchlessly tasteful tone with the keyboardist’s more sophisticated harmonies.

The tracks featuring May and Stone are equally compelling. Stone, in particular, brings a contemporary kind of sultry to “I Put a Spell on You,” while May turns the James Shelton’s 1950 ballad “Lilac Wine” into an equally modern torch song, with Pete Murray’s orchestrations—as throughout the disc—strong without ever becoming saccharine.

After the more rock-centric Performing This Week…, Emotion & Commotion presents a very specific side to Beck that’s been there all along but, with this wonderfully chosen set of material, has never been heard in such sharp focus. For a guitarist who came up through the British scene of the 1960s, Beck has matured into a player whose voice is assured and utterly without parallel. The aptly titled Emotion & Commotion may not possess any overt guitar pyrotechnics, but its deep beauty and profoundly vocal lyricism simply could not have come from anyone but Jeff Beck. A modern classic.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Jeff Beck Emotion & Commotion | | Leave a comment

Neil Young – Fork In The Road (2009)


If Neil Young is known for one thing, it’s that he does whatever the hell he wants, and he doesn’t care what anybody else thinks about it. And yet here I am as an amateur web critic trying to tell people what I think about it! Yeah, I’m living the tough life. Here is Neil Young’s 2009 album, filled with an assortment of ballads and chuggy rockers, and it doesn’t seem to have any overarching purpose or theme or drive to it. It’s a seemingly tossed-off album that he made for no other reason than he just felt like it. Inconsequential might be a good word for it, but I don’t think that inconsequential things are necessarily bad. Life is full of inconsequential things, and I rather like it. (I guess I should mention that the lyrics largely have to do with the government, the environment, the economy… You know, the typical old man Neil Young grumbling…)

I shouldn’t insinuate that Young just haphazardly tossed this off. All things considering, he was one of the hardest working people in rock ‘n’ roll in the late ’00s with his touring, the impressive string of archival releases, and his apparent family life. So it’s pretty commendable that still found the time to make another album, and it’s a pretty good one at that. Maybe one of the ballads could have been improved a mite, but you can’t go wrong when he just wants to chug along with his guitar for a bit, which is what he does for eight of these 10 tracks.

For my money, the most enjoyable song of the lot is “Fuel Line” with its tight, menacing riff and catchy melody. It’s an extremely simple, perhaps primitive rock ‘n’ roll song, but I can’t stop myself from tapping my foot when I’m listening to it. Therefore, I declare, it is a great song. “Just Singing a Song” seems to be hinting back to Young’s early ’90s grunge days except the distorted guitar is more smoother and dreamy as opposed to gritty. If he’s going to return to the grunge music in future releases, I hope he experiments more with this sound instead of the helicopter noises. I’m ***still*** sick of those helicopters.

The album closer “Fork in the Road” is a hoot from beginning to end. He’s using a riff that I’m sure Chuck Berry used except the guitars are a lot sloppier. Although I’m not completely appreciating the other obvious ’50s throwback in this album, “Get Behind the Wheel,” which for whatever reason comes off as more generic. Although that’s a fun song as well.

The only track I don’t like is the extremely slow and plodding ballad “Off the Road.” He only uses the minimal amount of instruments to orchestrate it, and the drum beat is so slow that it starts to get on my nerves. At least Young proves that he didn’t forget how to write ballads altogether with the lovely country number “Light a Candle.” Sure, it’s also a little uneventful and it seems weak compared to the stuff he gave us on Harvest Moon, but it’s a perfectly nice song and I enjoy listening to it.

Based on what I’ve been reading about Fork in the Road from other critics, I was expecting this to suck. Perhaps I haven’t been as gushy over all his supposedly great albums like Harvest or Freedom, so it maybe it makes sense that I would gravitate toward an album full of simple rock ‘n’ roll numbers. …Well, I ended up giving it the same rating that I gave Chrome Dreams II and Prairie Wind, but those deserved 11s for their distinguished accomplishments. Fork in the Road deserves an 11, because it’s fun listening to.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Fork In The Road | | Leave a comment

Neil Young – Living With War (2006)


For such a raging peacenik hippie, I don’t recall Neil Young writing too many protest songs during the Vietnam War era. He might have written or performed one or two, but he certainly never released an album of all protest songs until now. He must have been feeling bad about that, so when this new war popped up in 2003 that got Neil Young’s goat, he decided the time was right to rectify that previous mistake. He also didn’t seem to care much for the American president, ole Dubya. God knows why.

I remember reading about this album in 2006 when it was released, particularly about the song “Let’s Impeach the President.” The conservative pundits then told him to run off to Canada, which should be easy for him ‘cos that’s where he’s from. But Neil Young is a member of the world, and members of the world ought to be able to exercise free speech about the leaders of the free world. I believe in free speech and freedom of expression, and I enjoy hearing the things people come up with under the protection of these freedoms. Even if they get rude and nasty sometimes. (Sometimes I claim I don’t, but I’m only trying to be funny.) …….I even like hearing people exercise their freedom of speech after political parties have switched power, and there is a new voice of dissent. (Seriously, nothing irks me more than listening to the same people who nastily protested Bush all these years telling people who are now protesting Obama that they should shut up and do something else. Bah!!!) But I digress.

There is one side-effect of any album that tries to influence national policy: it is usually melodious. I mean, it has to be, if there’s any chance that any of these songs will get stuck in our heads and influence our thinking! Neil Young’s Living With War is no exception. This is his most sing-songey album. EVER. He even hired a crowd of back-up singers to sing throughout this album to simulate the feeling of standing in a crowd, watching Neil Young on stage while all the hippies surrounding you are singing along with the war protest lyrics. (And WHOAH!! I can’t stress enough to you how thrilled I am that these songs have choruses. Keep it up, Neil Young!)

Unfortunately, even though he is concentrating on strong melodies for perhaps the first time in his career, it doesn’t mean that they are great ones. I’m happening to be writing this review a few hours after completing the track reviews, and I honestly can’t recall how a single one of these ditties goes. Even the only song I gave an A to, “Families,” I don’t remember the melody. All I remember is I enjoyed listening to it quite a lot, and I found its lyrics poignant. That song is about the only one that I really like based on the lyrics. Most of the others are too bitter, too cynical, or too political for me to take them to heart. But I did find them interesting to read. I spent a lot of time in the track reviews extracting portions of my favorite lyrics, because I found them intriguing. But another reason I did that was because there wasn’t a whole lot else to talk about.

That brings me to what’s by far the biggest flaw of Living With War: all of these songs (except two) sound exactly the same. Oh, there are subtle differences here and there, but when you boil them down, they’re all mid-tempo, sing-songey songs. The good news is that I like the way they sound. Neil Young brings back his ultra-distorted grunge guitar from the ’90s, but instead of torturing us with it, he keeps it strictly in the background to lend all these songs a gritty texture. Interestingly, I’m not too fascinated with the two deviant songs. One is a straight choral rendition of “America the Beautiful,” which technically might be a fitting conclusion for the album, but everybody in the world has heard that song a billion times and Young adds nothing new to it. The other is the slowly paced “Roger and Out,” which has thoughtful lyrics about dead soldiers, but it has a tedious, plodding pace and a not-too-fascinating melody.

When it’s all said and done, this is another good Neil Young album and certainly one of his best of the ’00s. Most of the songs are upbeat and enjoyable, which is a good thing! But most of these songs sound the same, which could get tiring to some listeners. Of course, the main focus on the album is not the melodies, but the lyrics, which are frequently bitter and biting. Not that any of them had any effect on government policy, whatsoever. Really, I don’t even know why celebrities even try. People might take a few minutes to listen to what they have to say, but in reality nobody really cares. …Then again, come to think of it, President Bush was ousted from office after Neil Young had released “Let’s Impeach the President” ……Shall we say, “Mission Accomplished?”

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Living With War | | Leave a comment

Neil Young – Silver & Gold (2000)


What the!!!! This is an album full of Neil Young singing to an acoustic guitar! I guess it’s been 10 long years since the grunge movement took a hold of the ’90s and Neil Young’s career, but now that it became the decade with no pronounceable name, I guess it was time for him to go back doing the quieter, introspective stuff. I stand by my earlier statement that I’d rather listen to his maddening grungy albums than boring folky music, but as someone who had spent the previous month reviewing a bunch of those grunge albums in a row, it’s admittedly quite a relief to listen to him just sitting back and delivering some nice, quiet tunes for a change.

But this ain’t no Harvest Moon. That album featured some of Young’s finest melodies, and it had the ability to haunt my dreams. Silver & Gold is little more than a collection of passive and unoriginal folk and country tunes that he could have written and performed in his sleep. And he probably did, by the sound of it. It all seems very lazy.

The fans sure liked this, though, and that’s probably because Neil Young has the ability to make himself sound extremely important. And I’ll have to admit, I get caught up in a little bit of that grandeur at times. He also had the ability to bore the living crap out of me, and he does that a lot here, too. The one song on here that everybody should listen to is “The Great Divide,” which is one of those Neil Young songs that just seems to *get me* right at the center of my soul. Even though Neil Young had a lot of great songs in his career, I can’t say that there were too many of them that quite affected me like that. It has such a nice melody with a sweet vocal delivery, and a solid, shuffly rhythm that’s quite easy to get caught up in.

I also like that nostalgia-ridden “Buffalo Springfield Again,” which Neil seems to hint to his old bandmates that he wouldn’t mind having a reunion! It has a nice melody, too, and if the reunion had ever happened, it would have been a perfect song for them to perform in concert. “Good to See You” is an overwhelmingly sweet and pleasant ditty and it makes a nice album opener. The title track is also a good ‘un with a nice melody, and it constitutes another special treat for any fan of Young’s folkish works. “Razor Love” has been one of the more widely celebrated songs of the album, and that’s for good reason: It’s quite a mesmerizing little tune! But the down-side of it is that it goes past six minutes, and there wasn’t great reason for it. Other than, perhaps, to fill up space since this album is a startlingly short 39 minutes.

For every song that’s sweet and captivating, there’s at least one that’s absolutely boring. “Daddy Went Walkin’” not only makes a boring experience, but the melody was ripped off of some old folk song from the early 20th Century. (I’m not apt enough in such music to be able to point out where this melody comes from, but you’ll know what I mean if you ever hear it. It’s so common!) “Red Sun” had an interesting idea to usher in a subtle bagpipe sound, but that melody is so dull and clunky that it’s rather difficult to listen to. The album closer, “Without Rings,” couldn’t have ended things on a drabber note. It’s just a plodding acoustic guitar song without an interesting melody or captivating instrumentation. Blahhhhhhhh… I mean, the least he could have done there was to have Mr. Slide Guitar perform some noodles in the background, or do a depressed harmonica solo. Why make it so plain?

But whatever. This is a good album. Neil Young has always been known for releasing good albums, and his longtime fans will surely find enough about Silver & Gold to treasure listening to it from time to time. He never released anything close to resembling a perfect album, anyway! The Neil Young of the ’00s was not only as scraggly and scruffy as he’d ever been, but he also finally became a grand old coot. That might have given him permission to be lazier and less original than he used to be, but I sort of like him taking on that image. Somehow, I don’t think anybody made a better old coot than Neil! Except maybe Randy Newman, but in a different way.

This might not be a terribly exciting album, but it’s a nice album. I don’t think it’s quite as hopelessly dull as many critics point out, but I also think Neil could have worked a little harder developing these songs a little better. I mean, he wrote Harvest Moon, after all, so I know he had it in him! But anyway, Silver & Gold remains a nice experience to sit back and soak up one sunny afternoon with headphones. It might put you to sleep, but it’ll give you pleasant dreams.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Silver And Gold | | Leave a comment