Peace Trail By Neil Young

April 12, 2017

I don’t think Neil Young has ever issued a bad album in his half-century or so in the recording studio. His latest release, Peace Trail, may not rank among his best work but it is certainly above average.

The music is primarily acoustic and sparse as he only uses drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Paul Bushnell.

The album clocks in at 38 minutes divided between 10 tracks. The heart of the release is his socio/political material which has become more common as he has aged. More interesting are the times and songs when he looks inward and takes a more philosophical approach to his writing. There is an emotional connection to this type of material that seem genuine as he and much of his long-time fan base are facing their own mortality.

Peace Trail may not be his most memorable release but it does have a power to it. It will make you think and reflect and that is enough this time around.


Bluenote Café By Neil Young

January 24, 2016


If Eric Clapton is God, then Neil Young is the high priest of rock and roll. He has been clearing his vaults and the latest release is Bluenote Café. It gathers performances from ten different locations from his 1987-1988 tour. The era does not contain his well-known or most commercially successful material but despite the somewhat obscurity of a number of songs; there are plenty of positives to the release.

Neil Young has always been one of rock’s better guitar technicians and his expertise is on display as it weaves through and above the brass section. A 20 minute version of “Tonight’s The Night” and an extended 12 minute “Ordinary People” are worth the price of admission due to his searing guitar excursions.

In many ways it is an eclectic group of songs. “Bad News Comes To Town” is a slow ballad that percolates along. “Doghouse” strikes a funky note that was present during this period of his career. He reaches into his past for a modernized updating of “On The Way Home.”

There are some misses as “Ten Men Workin,’” “Welcome To The Big Room,” and “Married Man” are average songs that tend to disappear into the bland part of his legacy. The sound is fine and the backing band tight. The pick and choose approach from 10 different performances makes it an album of individual tracks, rather than a cohesive whole.

The mid to late 1980’s were a transitional point in his career as After The Gold Rush and Rust Never Sleeps were in his rear view mirror and Ragged Glory and Harvest Moon were in his immediate future. Many of these songs tend to get lost but there are some nuggets to be mined here. When Neil Young is at his rock and roll best, there are few better and some of the performances fall in to that category.

Four Strong Winds 45 by Ian & Sylvia

March 19, 2013

four strong winds ian & sylvia

Ian Tyson and Sylvia (Fricker) Tyson were a Canadian folk duo whose career, (1959-1975), lasted longer than their marriage, (1964-1975).

They were an important part of the 1960s folk revival movement. They recorded 13 albums during their career, which sold millions of copies, but they never had a chart single in the United States. In their native Canada their cover of the Gordon Lightfoot song “Early Morning Rain” topped the Singles Chart and their own “You Were On My Mind” reached the top five.

Their most famous composition has been recorded by dozens of artists and is most associated today with Neil Young. “Four Strong Winds” was the title of their 1964 album and a single released in the United States. While it had no chart action, it remains the definitive versions of this classic folk song.

Lotta Love by Nicolette Larson

October 19, 2011

Nicolette Larson produced a number of smooth pop/rock songs during her career but none so good or popular as “Lotta Love.”

It was a song Neil Young gave to her after she had worked with him on his AMERICAN STARS & BARS album. Its always interesting to compare his stark rendition to her up-beat, fun-filled in take on the song.

“Lotta Love” reached number 8 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart and Topped their Adult Contemporary Chart for one week.

She passed away during 1997 at the age of 45. Any of her pop albums are worth exploring.

After The Goldrush 45 by Prelude

October 1, 2011

One of the most unique and best covers of a Neil Young song was “After The Goldrush” by Prelude. Released as a single October 5, 1974, it reached number 22 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

Prelude was an English folk group formed during 1970 in Gateshead, England. Members were vocalists Irene and Brian Hume plus guitarist Ian Vardy.

The Hume’s were husband and wife and their a cappella version of Neil Young’s classic song was like nothing that was being played on the radio at the time.

Prelude has remained a working band since its origen. The Hume’s have been the consistent members and recently reunited with Vardy.

Here We Are In The Years: Neil Young’s Music Box (DVD) by Neil Young

August 29, 2011

Here We Are In The Years: Neil Young’s Music Box(MVD Entertainment), a two-hour documentary released earlier this summer, purports to trace the influences of Neil Young’s musical journey from his early days listening to such artists as Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis through his explorations of rock, country, folk, grunge, and everything in between.

It ends up being very interesting in a general sense. The early fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, punk music, and grunge, influenced the fabric of popular music and no doubt exerted influences upon Neil Young, but without his direct involvement in the project these influences remain assumed and not specific or proven.

An example would be the section of how American instrumental surf music influenced his guitar style and sound. Duane Eddy, The Fireballs, Dick Dale and other instrumental bands of the day exerted a great deal of influence upon late 1950s and early 1960s guitarists, but whether their influence reached Neil Young’s group, The Squires, while plausible, is not verified. I was amused by the Beach Party clip with Annette Funicello clearly visible.

More logical are the sections about Canadian artists Ian & Sylvia and his early relationship with Randy Bachman. The clip of him singing the folk duo’s “Four Strong Winds” is excellent and leaves you wanting more. The Bachman piece is more of careers passing one another rather than any direct influence.

There is little doubt that he has been influenced by a variety of artists and styles of music and that some of the suppositions presented here are right on or have been proven elsewhere. Young has been an active musician for decades and issued music that has spanned a number of styles, so he has been listening, incorporating, and reacting to what has been happening musically since his teen years.

The best part of the release is the history lesson. It traces various parts and elements of rock music from its beginnings to the present. While possibly unintended, it is interesting to follow how each musical period influenced the next. The various clips of everyone from Roy Orbison, to The Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols serve to enhance this extended history lesson.

Neil Young’s career has reached a point where because of his talent, stature, and popularity, it will be dissected and examined in as many ways as possible. Here We Are In The Years: Neil Young’s Music Box is one of those ways. In the final analysis, it is an intriguing travel through music history but not an essential Neil Young release.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Neil Young – Here We Are In The Years: Neil Young’s Music Box on Blogcritics.

Long May You Run by The Stills-Young Band

January 20, 2010

Drawn like a moth to a flame or ‘can’t live with him, can’t live without him’ probably best describes the relationship between Neil Young and Stephen Stills.

The duo had recorded and toured together as a part of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and issued solo releases, but in early 1976 decided to produce an album together within a band context. Their goal was to recreate the sound and energy of their legendary Buffalo Springfield days. The resulting Long May You Run did not achieve that goal. They did not write any songs together nor are there any stirring guitar duels. It has the feel, most of the time, of two solo artists using the same backing band. Another mistake may have been to remove the backing vocals by David Crosby and Graham Nash from the final mix.

The Stills-Young Band is small but tight and fits the sound they were trying to create well. Percussionist Joe Lala, keyboardist Jerry Aiello, bassist George Perry, and drummer Joe Vitale were all veterans of the road and the studio.

For some reason I have always associated this album with Neil Young. When I pulled it off the shelf for this review, it was filed under Young and not Stills. This may be due to the fact that two Young tracks are the best of the nine. The title track is a brilliant performance and would have fit any of his solo albums at the time. “Fontainebleau” is just a cut below and features some creative guitar work and an odd beat. His other three songs are okay which is faint praise. “Let It Shine” is amusing if nothing else, “Midnight On The Bay” does have some nice guitar work from Stephen Stills, and “Ocean Girl” just disappears.

Now we come to Mr. Stills who contributed four tracks. The best of a desultory lot is “Guardian Angel” which is up beat and has a spiritual nature to it. “12/8 Blues” is a competent blues rocker but “Black Coral” and “Make Love To You” continued the downward trend of his writing skills which was plaguing his solo career at the time.

Neil Young and Stephen Stills would tour together to promote the album but would soon part company again. They would leave behind a relic of their off again, on again relationship. In the final analysis when Stephen Stills and Neil Young walk into a recording studio together more is expected.

Last Time Around by Buffalo Springfield

January 1, 2010

After just over two turbulent, creative, and brilliant years, the members of Buffalo Springfield decided to call it quits. Neil Young would release a solo album four months after the group’s demise. Stephen Stills would move on to the successful and enduring Crosby, Stills & Nash. Richie Furay and Jim Messina, who had replaced original bass player Bruce Palmer, would form the country/rock band Poco. Drummer Dewey Martin would form Medicine Ball, retire to become a mechanic, and then form Buffalo Springfield Revisited with bass player Bruce Palmer.

Last Time Around was the third and last studio album by the group and was released after they had disbanded. It is unique, creative, diverse, and excellent which is probably an accurate description of their career.

It seems as if Neil Young could hardly wait to leave the band. He only contributed two full songs but his talent was such that both are superb. “On The Way Home” contains vocal harmonies with Richie Furay and guitar work with Stephen Stills which are top notch. There is an excellent version of this song on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s live album Four Way Street. “I Am A Child” did not include any other member of the band but is a classic Neil Young composition. He would recycle it for his Live Rust album.

Stephen Stills would contribute five tracks which can be considered the album’s foundation. “Four Days Gone” remains one of his strongest compositions. It has a country/rock feel and is another political statement by him. A bluesy rendition appears on Stephen Stills Live. “Pretty Girl Why”contains some nice guitar interplay with Young but it is the co-lead vocal with Furay that pushes it over the top.” Questions” is another country/rock composition with strong lyrics and stellar guitar riffs. “Uno Mundo” features some almost psychedelic guitar playing by Stills. “Special Care” is another track which would appear live throughout his career in various forms but here in its original incarnation it is precise and very laid back.

Richie Furay’s “Kind Woman” can really be considered the first Poco song. Rusty Young was brought in to play the pedal steel guitar part and meshed so well with Young and Messina that they decided to start their own band. This is a gentle, romantic song that remains among his best. “Merry-Go-Round” would travel in a different direction as a light pop tune. “It’s So Hard To Wait” was co-authored by Neil Young who then abandoned the song and does not appear on it. Furay finished it as a slow ode of lost love.

Jim Messina managed to contribute one song before everything fell apart. “Carefree Country Day” is light and competent and furthered solidified his relationship with Richie Furay.

Last Time Around remains one of the better albums of the late sixties despite the group members being pulled in different directions during the recording process. It has stood the test of time well as a lasting testament to one of the masterful groups in American rock history

Retrospective: The Best Of by Buffalo Springfield

August 3, 2009

Buffalo Springfield is a rare group in that many people can name more former members than they can songs. Buffalo Springfield launched the careers of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Jim Messina. This is kind of a shame, since during their brief career these guys produced some fine music, more than the one song the band is known for.

That song, of course, is “For What It’s Worth” and is one of the most recognizable in rock music, even if most people don’t know the song by its proper name. I have always considered “For What It’s Worth” to be one of the great protest songs of the late 1960s. The beauty of the song is its simplicity and the message defines a generation just as much as “All You Need Is Love.” It remains relevant today.

But the rest of the music on this collection measures up. Stills always worked better in a group setting and his contributions here are uniformly strong. One of them, “Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” still makes me smile 40 years later. “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” is an ensemble piece with dual vocals and guitars; sophisticated stuff for the 1960s. “Bluebird” contains some excellent acoustic guitar work by Stills set against Young’s electric guitar. “Rock & Roll Woman” shows just how good a guitarist Stills can be when he sets his mind to it; the vocal harmonies foreshadow his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Neil Young always had more problems within the confines of the band, as his genius is best served solo or with Crazy Horse as a backup. But his contributions to Buffalo Springfield also are strong, including “Mr. Soul,” which is straight psychedelic rock and features a guitar solo that many would find difficult to copy. “Broken Arrow” is intense rock with excellent vocals that looks ahead to Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere — and like the songs there, “Broken Arrow” is too long and tends to meander. “I Am A Child” is a country tune that Young would later hone on his Harvest LP, while “Expecting To Fly” is musical overreach and remains an oddity in the Buffalo Springfield catalog.

The remaining song on Retrospective is a gem. “Kind Woman” by Richie Furay is a beautiful love ballad, where there piano and steel guitar point ahead to Furay’s country-oriented work with Poco.

The different musical directions by the members of Buffalo Springfield created many tensions within the group, which led to their short shelf life and some great music. However, with their best material gathered in one place on Retrospective, it is music equal to any late-60s rock and stands the test of time quite well.