Classic Rock Review

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Neil Young Broken Arrow (1996)

zap_young8From starling.rinet.ru

Back again with Crazy Horse, and not necessarily for good, so it seems. The album is nowhere near as long or thoroughly embarrassing like Dead Man, but both share one serious flaw: they’re not for the uninitiated. In the latter case, this means that, if your ear is not perfectly attuned to the kind of ragged, dirty sound that Neil is so famous for, you’ll probably not be able to distinguish between these songs at all. Same problem could be actual for his previous records that relied on the same formula (Ragged Glory and Mirror Ball), but looks like on here he finally hits rock bottom. Namely, the album begins with three lengthy epics – ‘Big Time’ (7:24), ‘Loose Change’ (9:49) and ‘Slip Away’ (8:36) – which all sound the same: the band crashes and bashes at more or less the same, rather slow, tempo, Neil mumbles some lyrics which are absolutely impossible to hear as the recording’s quality does not top the most mediocre of bootlegs, and most of the time is given to sloppy, messy, feedbacky solos.

Actually, here’s yet another link to Dead Man: quite often, these solos sound more like the kind of buzz-saw imitations Neil practiced on that soundtrack, only this time they are set to a solid rhythm section. The worst blow comes in the middle of ‘Loose Change’, when the band suddenly sticks to repeating the same simplistic riff over and over again for about four minutes (and it reappears later, too, particularly at the end of ‘Scattered’), so that at one point it begins to seem that something’s wrong with your CD.

However, as horrendously lame as that ‘artistic’ trick is, it doesn’t really conceal the fact that there’s also some solid material here. For one, the three lengthy marathons are followed by four perfectly short and perfectly melodical tracks. The overall sound is still the same – bass/drums plus a couple heavily distorted guitars – and the arrangements are about as far away from each other as a plaice’s eyes (whoah, now here’s a good fishing metaphor), but these are good, entertaining songs. ‘Changing Highways’ starts the fun with a countryish type of boogie, whatever that means; actually, I’d heavily recommend people who think that ‘country rock’ equals ‘country’ take a good listen to this song and see what real country-rock is all about.

There’s a good, quirky harmonica solo, too, and the song is almost defiantly short, just as the previous three were defiantly long. That Neil, he’s really a freaked out one… ‘Scattered’ is countryish, too, though not as joyful or fast paced, but not a clone of the Great Album Opening Mess, either, as it has a clearly defined riff and vocal melody, and some autobiographic lyrics in ‘I’m a little bit here/I’m a little bit there/I’m a little scattered everywhere’. Plus, the sloppy arrangement really does the song good – were Neil to go for a lighter, more traditional arrangement, this would certainly seem much too banal. Next comes ‘This Town’ that manages to seduce me, too, with its ‘chunka-chunka-chunka’ rhythm and an almost nursery rhyme melody. Come to think of it, most of these melodies are so simple they’d easily fit nurseries all over the world, although I’m not too sure as to whether little children would enjoy the feedback mess and all the dirt.

Finally, ‘Music Arcade’ finishes the ‘quartet’ of minor masterpieces on a quieter note: the song would have easily fit right on Harvest Moon, as it’s just Neil strumming his acoustic and humming to himself as if nobody were around. It also has his best lyrics on the record – no kidding. Funny, the melody is somewhat sad, while the lyrics seem to be optimistic, as it’s essentially the phrase ‘don’t worry be happy’ that has made its long and treacherous way through the warped corridors of Young’s wicked mind and came out as a thousand different questions and metaphors.

Of course, the song would have made a fitting and suitable ending for the album, but, of course, Neil had to go and spoil it by adding on another lengthy, never ending bore – the cover of Jimmy Reed’s ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’, arranged as a pseudo-live recording with artificial crowd noises all around it. It’s not as dirty as the three ‘suites’ that open the record, and it never pounds on your head like the last four minutes of ‘Loose Change’, but it just drags like a paralized dog, as if the band were totally stoned out and played their instrument in a half-comatose state. Neil is not heard at all, the tempo is drastically slow (as far as I know, this song is usually done faster), and the band never knows when to stop, adding one more after one more after one more… guh. I usually turn down my CD before this one comes on. Even Roger McGuinn did a more decent version on it on Dr Byrds And Mr Hyde.

A weird album, of course, but, after all, Neil Young is much too unpredictable to not release a weird album after he’d already released a weirder one. Well, like I said, there’s some really good stuff and it ain’t that long. My advice to Neil, however, would be to make his new studio release as gimmickless as possible: it’s obvious that the guy is far from spent, but if he keeps abusing his listeners’ patience like that, well, I’ll just have to stop bothering about the sucker. AT ALL.

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February 25, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Broken Arrow | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Hampton 1971

zeppelin_hampton_1971From collectorsmusicreviews

Hampton Roads Coliseum, Hampton Beach, VA – September 9th, 1971

Disc 1 (49:22): Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed & Confused

Disc 2 (46:44): Stairway To Heaven, Celebration Day, That’s The Way, Going To California, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick

One of the very few soundboards to surface from Led Zeppelin’s 1971 US tour is from the September 9th show in Hampton Beach, Virginia. It is a clear but flat recording containing much of the show. It’s unfortunately missing the beginning of “Immigrant Song,” the third verse in “Dazed And Confused” and the ending of “Whole Lotta Love” and the encores (which were mostly likely “Communication Breakdown,” “Thank You” and, if the crowd were lucky, “Rock And Roll”).

In total about forty-five minutes of music is missing. In the ensuing years neither the rest of the soundboad nor an audience tape have ever surfaced leaving only this fragment of the show.

There have been many releases in the past. One More Daze (DS92D046) on Dynamite contains “Immigrant Song” to “That’s The Way”, along with “Moby Dick” from Long Beach, “White Summer” from the Julie Felix show and “Dancing Days” from Detroit.

In 1996 Tarantura released Jim’s Picks (HAMP-1,2) which was followed by their rival at the time Antrabata on Inspired (ARM020971) limited to 325 copies with certificate of authenticity. The excess discs in Antrabata’s production run were issued as Hampton 1971 on the Theramin label and Jim’s Picks were reissued on Dead Battery by the mysterious Flagge label. The American label House Of Elrond released this tape on Hampton Kicks (MG 6741/2) with two 1969 soundboard fragments as filler.

Hampton 1971 came out in 2004 on Cannonball along with a bunch of other titles, and subsequent to this both In The Wake Of Zeppelin (Akashic AKA-34A) and High Heeled Sneakers (Godfather Records GR 352/353) were pressed and released. The sound quality between all these titles is so similar that to single out one release as “definitive” really borders on being too pedantic. It is a shame since this is a great show in the middle of one of Zeppelin’s greatest tours.

Both “Immigrant Song” and “Heartbreaker” are extremely heavy and devastating. So much so that Robert Plant introduces “Since I’ve Been Loving You” as “something a little cooler.”

“Dazed & Confused” is referred to as “a little ditty from way back.” The versions of the piece in late 1971 contained several interesting variations from others. It was about this time where Page began to introduce the Bouree into the violin bow section as well as the descending drone over which Plant sang a high pitched moan. (A motif that is very effective in the first Tokyo show on September 23rd, 1971). During the call and response portion Page plays a bit of The Yardbirds’ “Over Under Sideways Down” prompting Plant to laugh.

This tape has one of the better-recorded versions of “Celebration Day” (a song that is very hard to find a clean version) and acoustic set. The playing is so relaxed it makes one wonder exactly how the concert ends. Hopefully someday the rest of the tape will surface and we can enjoy it in its entirety or an audience tape would surface.

Hampton 1971 is a nice release on the underrated Cannonball label. It’s not as expensive as the high end labels, but sounds just as good and is readily available.

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Hampton 1971 | , | Leave a comment

Neil Young Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy (1994)

0143RocknRollCowboy196694C1_thumb1From bbchron.blogspot.co.uk

In the late ’80s, Neil Young casually mentioned in an interview that he was planning a box set of rarities and outtakes (entitled The Neil Young Archives), which would be ready for release shortly. It never appeared, even though it’s supposedly still being assembled and finalized to this day. To alleviate the fans’ frustration, this bootleg four-CD Italian (Great Dane Records) box set appeared, and it covers all the phases of Young’s lengthy concert career. The first disc (1966-1973) proves to be the best.

It’s here that you’ll find an early barnstorming guitar version of “Cowgirl in the Sand” (clocking in at 14-and-a-half minutes) and a harmonious Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young take of “Tell Me Why.” A piano-laden medley of “A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold” follows, and the beautiful unreleased acoustic nuggets “Everybody’s Alone” and “Dance Dance Dance” comfort the listener. Disc two (1974-1978) contains material from Young’s dark period, including unplugged versions of “Pardon My Heart” and “On the Beach,” recorded at New York’s Bottom Line. Disc three proves to be the weakest since it covers what is widely regarded as Young’s unfocused years (1982-1985).

“Touch the Night” is essentially a rewrite of “Like a Hurricane,” and there is a reason why “Let Your Fingers Do the Talking” was never released. The countrified “Down by the River” and a banjo version of the reflective “My Boy” save the disc from being a total washout, however. And the final disc (1986-1994) shows Young regaining his strength and focus with the definitive “Rockin’ in the Free World” (from Saturday Night Live) and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” where he is joined by friends Simon & Garfunkel. The set of four may be a bit too intimidating for more casual fans, but the sound quality is consistent, and it proves to be the ultimate showcase of Young in concert. Also included is a 45-page booklet packed with pictures, song notes, quotes, and a list of every live date played by Young from 1968 to 1993. ~ Greg Prato, All Music Guide

Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy is a rich, if somewhat frustrating, listening experience. It’s a four-disc set that collects various Neil live performances, spanning from his Springfield days to his Grammy Award show performance of “Philadelphia” in 1994. Among the many treats: “Sweet Joni,” a 1973 piano-based paean to Joni Mitchell apparently only performed once. Other highlights include several Stills-Young Band run-throughs, especially “Southern Man” which features some scintillating guitar solos from both Stills and Young. Other highlights include the unreleased songs “Everybody’s Alone,” “Traces,” “Love Art Blues,” “Give Me Strength,” “Lady Wingshot,” “If You Got Love,” “Gonna Rock Forever,” “Amber Jean,” “Let Your Fingers Do the Talking,” “Grey Riders,” “Nothing is Perfect,” “Ordinary People,” “Silver and Gold,” “Homefires” and “Separate Ways.” Add in several reworked versions of known quantities, such as the Saturday Night Live debut of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” “Shots” (performed acoustically from San Francisco’s Boarding House) and “Helpless” (a stunning take from Neil & the International Harvester’s Austin City Limits appearance in 1984) and “Stringman,” recorded in London in 1976, and you have a great collection. However, thanks to this collection’s breadth–in total, 63 songs taken from upwards of 40 concerts–the sound quality ranges from the near-atrocious to excellent. Thus accounting for the frustration at times. One other comment: The accompanying booklet to Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy is excellent, far surpassing many liner notes to legitimate boxed sets, featuring a well-written overview of Neil’s career as well as a track-by-track commentary AND complete tour schedule from Neil’s 1968/69 solo tour through to his 1993 jaunt with Booker T. & the MGs. It does much of what the set itself does, collecting many of Neil’s comments and observations on many of his songs. Despite its sound lapses, until the Archives are released–and possibly even then–this is a true “essential.” (A+)

Track Listings:
Disc 1 (1966-1973):
1. Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing, 2. Birds, 3. Cowgirl in the Sand, 4. Tell Me Why, 5. Only Love Can Break Your Heart, 6. Everybody’s Alone, 7. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold, 8. Out on the Weekend, 9. Love In Mind, 10. Dance Dance Dance, 11. Cripple Creek Ferry, 12. L.A., 13. Soldier, 14. Harvest, 15. Sweet Joni, 16. Tonight’s the Night, 17. Tired Eyes

Disc 2 (1974-1978): 1. Pardon My Heart, 2. On the Beach, 3. Traces, 4. Human Highway, 5. Love Art Blues, 6. Hawaiian Sunrise, 7. Like a Hurricane, 8, Stringman, 9, Evening Coconut, 10. Long May You Run, 11. Southern Man, 12. Give Me Strength, 13. Comes a Time, 14. Sail Away, 15. Lady Wingshot, 16. Shots, 17. Downtown

Disc 3 (1982-1985): 1. If You Got Love, 2. Transformer Man, 3. My Boy, 4. Old Ways, 5. Kinda Fonda Wanda, 6. Gonna Rock Forever, 7. Touch the Night, 8. Amber Jean, 9. Let Your Fingers Do the Talking, 10. Helpless, 11. Down by the River, 12. Interstate, 13. Grey Riders, 14. Nothing Is Perfect, 15. Southern Pacific

Disc 4 (1986-1994): 1. Mideast Vacation, 2. Road of Plenty (El Dorado), 3. Computer Age, 4. Bad News, 5. Ordinary People, 6. Rockin’ in the Free World, 7. Winterlong, 8. Silver and Gold, 9. Campaigner, 10. Homefires, 11. Only Love Can Break Your Heart, 12. Mr. Soul, 13. Separate Ways, 14. Philadelphia

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Rock n Roll Cowboy | , | Leave a comment

Neil Young Landing On Water (1986)

5ef64bdce8cae298f164e262eec75666528ada41From Rolling Stone

After a series of musical one-night stands, Neil Young is finally getting serious again. His previous three albums were just dalliances — in electronic (Trans), rockabilly (Everybody’s Rockin’) and country (Old Ways) music — none of which were terribly meaningful or deeply felt. This time, however, Young has committed himself to a sound that’s truly new.

He’s working with electronics again, but while Trans used conventional computer dance beats surrounded by thick, slick synth effects, Landing on Water keeps its electronics in the garage. Instead of using technology to go high-tech, Young creates a rinky-tink synth sound, which is set off by surprisingly sparse, crisp arrangements.

On this record, Young has axed Trans’s vocoder, which made him sound like a singing microwave. There are also more of his raw, bleeding guitar leads. But what’s really jarring is the sound of Steve Jordan’s drums. They’re mixed way up high to exhilarating effect. In “I Got a Problem,” the drums are compellingly brash, and in “People on the Street,” it sounds as if Jordan could kick through the speakers at any moment.

Young lightens things up with the pop touches in “Violent Side” and “Hard Luck Stories.” To insure his patented irony, the happiest pop melodies are married to some of the album’s direst lyrics. Young may kick off the LP on an optimistic note, casting off the “Weight of the World,” but the rest hits like a hurricane. Of course, Young writes bitter songs best, but while it’s nice to hear him confronting life again after the relative complacency of his last two LPs, his spare lyrics are not the album’s forte.

None has the flaky invention of his finest, and the most interesting seem to reduce the whole Sixties movement to a “Hippie Dream.”

But what Young’s lyrics lack in character, the music makes up for in freshness. True, Landing on Water doesn’t have the sweep of Rust Never Sleeps or Tonight’s the Night, but it’s definitely his most consistent LP of the Eighties. More important, Young has found a way to give his sound a healthy new shot of neurosis.

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Landing On Water | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy (1994)

0143RocknRollCowboy196694C1_thumb1From geetarz.org

Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy is a rich, if frustrating, listening experience. Released by the Italian Great Dane record label a few years back, it’s a four-disc set that collects various Neil live performances, spanning from his Springfield days to his Grammy Award show performance of “Philadelphia” in 1994.

Among the many treats: “Sweet Joni,” a 1973 piano-based paean to Joni Mitchell apparently only performed once. It’s a fragile song with fragile lyrics, perhaps in keeping with its subject. Other highlights include several Stills-Young Band run-throughs, especially “Southern Man” which features some scintillating guitar solos from both Stills and Young. Say what you will about Stills’ songwriting abilities, but there’s no denying his prowess with a six-string. He’s one of the best around–always was, always will be. Other highlights include the unreleased songs “Everybody’s Alone,” “Traces,” “Love Art Blues,” “Give Me Strength,” “Lady Wingshot,” “If You Got Love,” “Gonna Rock Forever,” “Amber Jean,” “Let Your Fingers Do the Talking,” “Grey Riders,” “Nothing is Perfect,” “Ordinary People,” “Silver and Gold,” “Homefires” and “Separate Ways.”

Add in several reworked versions of known quantities, such as the Saturday Night Live debut of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” “Shots” (performed acoustically from San Francisco’s Boarding House) and “Helpless” (a stunning take from Neil & the International Harvester’s Austin City Limits appearance in 1984) and “Stringman,” recorded in London in 1976, and you have enough for a two-album set–a
great one at that, especially if 20-bit remastering and/or HDCD technology is employed to clean up the sound.

“To clean up the sound.” Hmmm. Therein lies the rub, folks. Thanks to this collection’s breadth–in total, 63 songs taken from upwards of 40 concerts–the sound quality ranges from the near-atrocious to excellent. A good example of this are the trio of songs (“Traces,” “Human Highway,” and “Human Highway”) taken from CSNY’s 1974 performance at the Coliseum in Seattle.

It sounds like the audio equivalent of sludge–except, of course, for the harmonies which do come through. Thus, as I said at the outset, this is a rich, if frustrating, experience. Let’s hope that many of its treasured are found in better form on the Archives when/if that multi-CD set is released.

One other comment: The accompanying booklet to Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy is excellent, far surpassing many liner notes to legitimate boxed sets, featuring a well-written overview of Neil’s career as well as a track-by-track commentary AND complete tour schedule from Neil’s 1968/69 solo tour through to his 1993 jaunt with Booker T. & the MGs.

While it doesn’t tip the scale as far as the set’s rating, it does much of what the set itself does, collecting many of Neil’s comments and observations on many of his songs.

Despite its sound lapses, until the Archives are released–and possibly even then–this is a true “essential.” (A+)

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Rock n Roll Cowboy | , | Leave a comment