Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Neil Young Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy (1994)


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 | ,

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