KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

NEIL YOUNG Part 8 – Daddy Went Walkin’ On The Devil’s Sidewalk

The latest batch of Neil Young albums I revisited this week was an interesting one, including two live albums and three studio releases that couldn’t be more sonically or thematically different. I began with Year Of The Horse (1996), 2 CD’s of live recordings with Crazy Horse (Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot & Frank Sampedro), which coincided with a Neil Young - Year Of The Horseconcert film of the same name by director Jim Jarmusch. Following the live Weld album by only five years, the world probably didn’t need another concert recording of Neil & “The Horse,” but I found it to be more enjoyable than that previous album as it covered more diverse musical territory while always showcasing the talents of his longtime backing band. He certainly gave fans their money’s worth, with 12 songs across 84 minutes on a “Specially Priced 2 Disc Set” (as the sticker on the shrinkwrap read). I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the versions of songs from 1996’s Broken Arrow, my least favorite of his albums to date. “Big Time” still has the excellent chorus from the original, and Neil delivers some top-notch guitar solos over a standard Crazy Horse rhythm. “Slip Away” might meander a bit over its 11 minute running time, but Neil’s guitar work can be described as fluid, melodic & fierce. The song itself may not be memorable, but the musicianship is. “Scattered,” with its lovely sentiment of “Let’s think about livin’, let’s think about life” is short & sweet, and the melody (“I’m a little bit high, I’m a little bit low…”) packs more punch than its studio counterpart.

Neil Young Photo (circa 1996, from Year Of The Horse CD)Many older songs show up in stellar versions: “When You Dance” (more fuzzy & stomping than the original), “Barstool Blues” (three times its original length; it’s got a four-on-the-floor beat but still grooves), “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks” (an intense take on this Life song; I just wish they had avoided the echo-y snare drum sound), “Mr. Soul” (a full-sounding unplugged version with great harmonica), “Pocahontas” (his voice has a snarling quality; it’s not revelatory but I’m always happy to hear this song), “Danger Bird” (“slow as molasses” as I described it in my appraisal of Zuma, it’s slow, epic & massive), “Prisoners” (still a dumb but fun song, with some demonic guitar shredding) and “Sedan Delivery” (a classic Crazy Horse performance, and I love Neil’s “Smell ‘The Horse’ on this one” intro). It’s not an earth-shattering concert recording like his earlier Live Rust, but it’s a more than solid representation of a group still in its prime.

His next studio album wouldn’t appear for another four years, but it was worth the wait for fans of his quieter side, as Silver & Gold (2000) is a triumph. Like his other mostly Neil Young - Silver + Goldacoustic releases (Comes A Time, Harvest Moon) that are too easily compared to his landmark 1972 album, Harvest, but really only capture a fraction of that earlier classic, Silver & Gold recalls the peace & serenity of earlier standards like “Heart Of Gold” and “Old Man” with the added nostalgia of a man in his mid-50s. “Good To See You” is a simple acoustic song that sets an upbeat tone for much of the album, both musically & lyrically. “Silver & Gold,” which was written in 1982, reminds me of early James Taylor, with just Neil on guitar & harmonica, singing about domestic bliss (“Our kind of love never seems to get old, it’s better than silver & gold”). “Daddy Went Walkin’” directly references his earlier hit, with “Old man crossin’ the road, you gotta let him go/he’s feelin’ fine.” I like the various tempo changes and emotive harmonica playing. This song gets better with each successive listen. He’s never sounded more nostalgic than on “Buffalo Springfield Again,” where he surprises his fans and probably his old bandmates by suggesting a reunion with that group (which would actually happen a decade later). It’s a catchy country-rock song with cool guitar runs in the stop-start section after the chorus.

“Razor Love,” which was written in 1987, is the longest song here at nearly 6-1/2 minutes, and it’s also the highlight of this record for me. The subtle instrumentation is perfect against his emotive vocals (“I got faith in you, it’s a razor love that cuts clean through”), Neil Young Photo (circa 2000, from Road Rock CD)and there’s a wonderful little ascending melody at “Silhouettes…on the win-dow.” “Horseshoe Man” has an absolutely gorgeous haunting piano melody, and great call-and-response between the vocals & pedal steel guitar in the chorus (“Love…how could they know love?”). It’s one of the few somber songs here, with the titular character bringing heartbreak “because love is everywhere.” “Distant Camera” sounds a bit like “Old Man” at a faster tempo, and I love how it goes from melancholy to bliss (“Life is changing everywhere I go, new things and old both disappear”; “All I want is a song of love…to sing for you”). The three songs I haven’t mentioned are all very good but not quite at the level of the 7 other wonderful songs already discussed. I think I’ll be returning to this album frequently in the future, as it’s one of the most pleasant surprises in his catalog…especially coming so many years into his career.

Neil must have had such a good time recording & touring the Silver & Gold album that he decided to release a live recording from that tour. Road Rock Vol. 1 – Friends & Relatives (2000) features longtime collaborators Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham, Duck Neil Young - Road Rock Vol. 1-Friends & RelativesDunn, Jim Keltner and Pegi & Astrid Young (his wife & half-sister, respectively) on a collection of 8 songs that mostly come from earlier in his career. Starting things off with an 18-minute version (wow!) of “Cowgirl In The Sand” makes it clear that this album was aimed at his most loyal fans. It has a similar vibe to the Crazy Horse original but this band makes it more musically meticulous. “Walk On” has a nice loose groove, and it’s a joy to hear this one (originally from On The Beach) played live. “Peace Of Mind,” a song I didn’t mention in my discussion of Comes A Time, is very pretty with a sparse arrangement featuring a weeping steel guitar. I love the melody at “You know it takes a long long time.” The 11-minute take of “Words” is a searing epic rendition of this Harvest masterpiece. “Motorcyle Mama” is an excellent choice to follow that extended guitar workout; a short, fun little number with a great rhythm and some belted Linda Ronstadt-esque vocals (not sure if that’s Pegi or Astrid). This version of “Tonight’s The Night” might be my favorite since the original, played at a perfect slow tempo with an ominous undertone and tight harmonies. Album closer “All Along The Watchtower” features The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde and was recorded in her home state of Ohio (Cleveland to be exact). This version of the Bob Dylan song owes more to Jimi Hendrix’s definitive interpretation, but Neil’s inspired (and inimitable) guitar work makes the song his own. I can’t say this is a great live album, and it’s certainly not essential, but it’s nice to have a document of Neil in concert with a band other than Crazy Horse for a change.

Are You Passionate? (2002) is an interesting album. It has a number of excellent songs but it doesn’t hold together as a satisfying whole. It features members of Stax soul legends Neil Young - Are You PassionateBooker T. & The MG’s (Booker T. Jones, Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Potts) along with other Neil regulars like Frank Sampedro and Pegi & Astrid Young, and one song with Crazy Horse. One of my main complaints is that 8 of the 11 songs clock in at 5+ minutes, and the 65-minute album overstays its welcome. Since it’s essentially “Neil Young & The MG’s,” I’m not surprised that the majority of songs fall under the Southern Soul genre, and in many cases it’s easy to draw comparisons to well-known soul and R&B songs. “You’re My Girl” combines the funky bouncing bass line of “Green Onions” with Neil’s distinctive guitar tone & style. Here he’s singing to his daughter who’s growing up in front of his eyes (“Please don’t tell me that you’re leaving me just yet ‘cause I know I gotta let you go…”). I love the occasional group response vocals. “Mr. Disappointment” was an immediate highlight; a melancholy midtempo song with an emotional lead guitar melody that’s repeated in the chorus (“I’d like to shake your hand, Disappointment”). I like how Neil sings in a huskier, raspier voice than usual, sounding similar to Robbie Robertson.

[Neil Young – “Mr. Disappointment”]

“Let’s Roll” is his tribute to the passengers who fought back the hijackers on 9/11. It begins with an ominous intro that leads into a chunky, funky groove with a big guitar riff. I really enjoy the high vocals in the bridge (“No one has the answer but one thing is true, you got to turn on evil when it’s comin’ after you”). “Goin’ Home” is the one song with Crazy Horse; Neil Young Photo (circa 2002, from Are You Passionate CD)the heavy, pummeling music gives that away. It definitely has more punch than anything on their last album together, Broken Arrow. “When I Hold You In My Arms” swings like Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “You Really Got A Hold On Me” with a light 6/8 (or is that 3/4?) feel. Lyrically, he’s back to the domestic tranquility of Silver & Gold, and his bluesy guitar is highlighted along with Booker T.’s one-of-a-kind organ sound.  “Be With You” sounds a lot like The Four Tops’ “It’s The Same Old Song,” and it’s hard not to smile at this ‘60s Motown throwback. It’s a minor song but a whole lot of fun. The rest of the album often falls into the MOR (Middle Of The Road) category, with slick production and by-the-numbers instrumentation that recalls Eric Clapton at his most banal, or later songs like John Mayer’s “Waiting On The World To Change.” I often enjoy this type of recording in small doses, but there’s a little too much of it here and it quickly wears thin. Album closer, “She’s A Healer,” though, is a rare extended Neil Young jam that’s more groove-oriented as opposed to his usual guitar freakout. Are You Passionate? isn’t a terrible album by any means, but it’s also not terribly memorable. As always, I give him credit for exploring new territories, and at least half the songs are worth repeated listens.

I have mixed feelings about Greendale (2003), a convoluted 78-minute concept album with Crazy Horse (minus Frank Sampedro this time) about a small town & its citizens, a Neil Young - Greendalemurdered police officer, the devil living in the town jail and a young girl named Sun Green who connects with a man named Earth Brown (turning the whole thing into a parable about respecting our planet and its natural resources…or something like that). I read Neil’s rambling liner notes for each song, and even he seems confused by his own story. The bonus DVD, which includes a solo acoustic performance where he attempts to explain the story between songs, is harder to get through. It would be more enjoyable to just see & hear him play the songs without all the preambles. Also, 9 of the 10 songs exceed the 5-minute mark, with 3 exceeding 10 minutes, and they don’t really lend themselves to extended instrumental passages. Even the most diehard Neil Young fan had to feel that their patience was being tested the first time they played it. Now with all those negative comments out of the way, I should say that I did find a lot to enjoy here & about half the songs work well on their own. It just took some extra time & effort.

“Double E” is a down & dirty blues shuffle with a great guitar melody and biting lead guitar. It’s relatively brief, at just over 5 minutes, and there’s a great hook at “Back in the day, livin’ in the summer of love.” “Devil’s Sidewalk” is a bouncy 4/4 blues with fuzzy guitar that maintains a steady groove from start to finish. I really like the “Green-daaaale” backing vocals by The Mountainettes (Pegi Young, Nancy Hall, Twink Brewer & Sue Hall).

“Leave The Driving” sounds like an old folk song updated for a rock band, with Neil playing some excellent raw harmonica, and it’s one of the darkest tracks on the album. It tells the tale of how Sun’s cousin Jed murders a cop named Carmichael after the officer stops him on his way out of town (his car was full of drugs). “Carmichael” recounts the story of the Neil Young Photo (circa 2003)murdered cop, the fight he had with his wife that morning, and the secret he was hiding from her. It has a steady, subdued groove with subtle guitar runs over its 10+ minutes. “Sun Green” is a stomping blues rocker with a wonderful lead harmonica melody. It seems to be about youthful idealism, and pits the innocent young woman against authority figures as she repeatedly shouts, “Hey Mr. Clean, you’re dirty now too” through a megaphone. I had some issues with the Rent-style Broadway feel to album closer “Be The Rain,” but it’s hard to find fault with the music and the repeated refrain of “Save the planet for another day.” The rest of the songs have elements I enjoy (like the way “Grandpa’s Interview” reminds me of James Taylor’s “Handy Man,” the rattling guitar strings in “Bandit” and how the music in “Falling From Above” sounds like something Lou Reed might have written) but they don’t hold my interest all the way through. I remember liking all of Greendale when I first bought it a decade ago, but it obviously hasn’t held up well for me. I’m curious to find out if other fans are more receptive to the whole concept and not just individual songs.

Next up will be a few more studio albums he recorded in the first decade of the new millennium, as well as a handful of archive live releases. I’m approaching the finish line in his discography but there’s still a lot more music to explore over the next couple of weeks. I continue to be impressed by his work ethic and his stubborn refusal to repeat himself from album to album.

11 comments on “NEIL YOUNG Part 8 – Daddy Went Walkin’ On The Devil’s Sidewalk

  1. Phillip Helbig
    March 15, 2013

    As always, enjoyable reading. I’m looking forward even more to the concert in July now. At first, I bought the ticket thinking “better see him before he dies”, as was the case with Paul Simon (disappointment) and Ringo Starr (no disappointment) about 20 months ago. I won’t say too much in case you will see him (you mentioned you like being surprised), but some reviews have upped my expectations about the concert.

    Can’t wait until you get to Iron Maiden! These days, most new stuff I listen to was prompted by reading something. Most of the time, the reviewer had a better impression than I did. With Iron Maiden, it was prompted by hearing them for the first time a couple of years ago or whatever (amazing, I know). I assumed that the songs which caught my attention are probably the (only?) good ones, but far from it. I have all of the studio albums with Dickinson now, and even tracks I have neither heard nor read anything about blow me away.

    I’m convinced that there are millions of music fans who, like me, avoided Iron Maiden because of Eddie! Maybe your assessment of their career can set them straight!

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    • Thanks, Phillip. I’m glad you’re enjoying this series, and I always look forward to your input. I’m sure the Neil show you’ll be seeing will be great. As long as you go in with an open mind, it’s hard not to enjoy whatever songs & styles he decides to tackle on a particular tour. It’s the fans who go wanting to hear specific songs played like the originals who will most likely leave disappointed.

      I’m surprised to hear that Paul Simon was a disappointment. I haven’t seen him live since the early 90s, but he put on a great show then, and I recently got his “Live In New York” DVD and he & the band were excellent. Who was in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band when you saw them? Earlier today I was watching footage from his recent tour, which included Steve Lukather (from Toto) and Richard Page (from Mr. Mister and 3rd Matinee). He seems to choose an eclectic bunch of musicians each time he tours, which must be fun for them and the audience.

      It may be a while until I get to Iron Maiden, but I hope to tackle their catalog before the end of the year. Mike “LeBrain” Ladano has already done an incredibly thorough recap of their catalog, but I’ll be coming at it from a different perspective so hopefully our appraisals complement one another. Like you, I came to Maiden’s music much later than most people in my age group. They were just getting huge in my early high school years, but I was put off by the Eddie imagery and my tastes didn’t run as heavy as that at the time. When I was in my early 30s I decided to pick up 4 used LPs to see what I was missing, and I chose wisely. By the time I finished my first run-through of Killers, The Number Of The Beast, Piece Of Mind and Live After Death, I was completely hooked, and quickly made up for lost time. Within a year I owned all of their official releases on CD, and I’ve seen them twice (since Dickinson returned). I eventually got rid of the Blaze Bailey-era albums since they didn’t appeal to me, but I may go back to them when I revisit their catalog.

      After wrapping up Neil’s catalog in a couple of weeks, I have a few other artists in mind to cover here next. I can tell you that one of them will be done around the time that school’s out (hint, hint), and you’d have to be the mayor of Simpleton (another obvious hint) to not figure out another of the artists. Of course, I might change my mind and listen to someone else, but I’m eager to revisit those two artists sooner than later.

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      • Phillip Helbig
        March 15, 2013

        “I’m surprised to hear that Paul Simon was a disappointment. I haven’t seen him live since the early 90s, but he put on a great show then, and I recently got his “Live In New York” DVD and he & the band were excellent.”

        He seemed to be enjoying himself, as did the band, they played for a long time, the fans thought it was good. I was somehow expecting more. I think basically if boils down to the fact that Simon maintains that his stuff without Garfunkel is at least as good as that with Garfunkel, but I don’t agree. Yes, I know that Simon wrote the songs and played the guitar and sang while Garfunkel only sang, but that’s not the point. There are many bands where one person writes essentially all of the songs, but the band songs are much better than the solo stuff. Maybe it is because they, perhaps unconsciously, write for the people in the band; maybe it is because they have to convince the people in the band first that the stuff is worth recording. I recall Neil Peart saying that most of the lyrics he submits for Rush are rejected. While I can understand he doesn’t want to put on a Simon-and-Garfunkel-without-Garfunkel show, I think that in three hours he should have done more than just one Simon-and-Garfunkel song. “The Sound of Silence” was one of the encores, but even that was more the version from The Paul Simon Songbook.

        Ringo had Richard Page, Gary Wright (Spooky Tooth), Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Wally Palmer and a drummer I didn’t recognize. (Ringo needed a second drummer because he sometimes sang while standing and holding a mic at the front of the stage.) He played for a couple of hours with no break. I hope that I’m that healthy at his age. (When he was young, he was sick very often, months or years altogether, which resulted in him missing a lot of school.) I also liked the fact that he didn’t do an encore. While I understand the origin of the encore, when it becomes just a ritual it is better to do away with it. (Of course, the total amount of music was not less as a result, a bit more than the average concert.) I also like the fact that he doesn’t give autographs anymore, noting that most of them show up on ebay the next day.

        “Who was in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band when you saw them?”

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      • Those are valid complaints about the Paul Simon show. Didn’t realize it was weighted so heavily on his solo career. Having revisited his solo discography well over a year ago (I wrote about it here), I was impressed by his output and how he continues to write really great material. As much as I love his work with Garfunkel, and often his old partner’s vocals are sorely missed, song-for-song his solo career is just as impressive.

        That was an excellent lineup you saw on the All-Star tour. I agree that Ringo looks & sounds great for a man his age, and he seems very comfortable in his skin and with his legacy at this point. I’m not sure I agree about the “no autograph” policy, I can see where he’s coming from. At least he’s applying that to everyone. I’ve never been an autograph seeker anyway. The times when I’ve met some of my musical heroes, I preferred to spend the time they would otherwise sign something by shaking their hand and having a brief conversation. That memory has more impact on me than looking at someone’s signature. The only autograph I ever got was from Pete Townshend. I didn’t meet him, but someone at my old job (at Atlantic Records) got him to sign an 8×10 photo and address it to me. I posted it at my desk that day, and the next morning it was gone. I subsequently had two short conversations with Phil Collins and those have stuck with me all these years.

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      • Phillip Helbig
        March 15, 2013

        I have two autographs, from Walter Koenig (yes, I was a Star Trek fan, of the Original Series) and Isaac Asimov. No musicians.

        What do you think about the “meet and greet” which some groups offer? For about twice the price of the ticket, you can meet the band after the show (presumably together with other folks who have paid for the same privilege), get autographs, have pictures taken, maybe get some token souvenir etc. Probably not much more than 10 minutes (my guess; I don’t know). On the one hand, once one has achieved enough fame that one has to shield oneself from one’s audience, one has to limit the access, and perhaps charging is one way to do that. On the other hand, it seems rather cheesy. (I don’t know what one of these musicians would do if someone met them by chance and struck up a chat; would he think “hey, better be careful, maybe someone who paid will catch me chatting for free”?

        In the case of The Beatles and actually quite many less famous groups, one does have to limit access simply as a security measure. Of course, it depends on the fans as well, and where the interaction takes place. Fairport Convention often walk around in the fields when not playing at their Cropredy festival, and once Dave Pegg sat down, with his own breakfast, at the table where my family and I were having breakfast in a breakfast tent on the field. Even Robert Plant has been spotted in the field at Cropredy. After the initial “wow, I’m famous” phase is over, most probably regret the necessary distance. What is stupid, though, is enhanced security in the case of musicians who obviously don’t need it, i.e. in the absence of security no-one would even notice who they were.

        Like

      • I have no problem with the concept of the meet-and-greet. If fans are willing to pay extra to meet their heroes, and the artist is fine with it, then everyone’s happy. It’s not something I would ever pay for, but sometimes it’s fun just to be backstage to see how other people act in that situation. I’ve been backstage for Jethro Tull, Rush, Phil Collins, Brian Wilson and numerous others, and in most cases I was more interested in the free food & drinks than in fighting the crowd to tell the artist how great he/she is. I did speak with Geddy Lee briefly, since I was working at Atlantic Records at the time, but otherwise I preferred being an observer.

        In this day & age when artists need to find any way to increase their revenue (since album sales aren’t what they used to be), live shows are where most of the money is generated, and these extras that are offered to fans must be extremely lucrative.

        I love your last couple of sentences, regarding the post-“wow, I’m famous” phase and those artists who are more famous in their mind than in reality. Well said, Phillip.

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  2. waynelaw
    March 16, 2013

    Nice work Rich…as always you immerse yourself in these records and write well. You are building a nice framework of reference material for those of us not able to have access to some of these more obscure albums.

    Like

    • Thanks, Wayne. I really appreciate the positive feedback, and I’m glad you’re finding these posts informative. They also function as a reference for me when I return to these records in the future. I can’t always remember everything about them, so it’s nice to have a journal out there that reminds me what I liked & disliked about a particular album.

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  3. Lewis Johnston
    April 15, 2013

    This period is what I regard as one of his most “difficult”. Apart from “Silver And Gold” that is another album that revisits the past and comes into the present with satisfying results. The rest of the albums in this section have their moments but none of them are satisfying as a whole. This is where (for me) he really goes crazy with the length of the albums. Quite a few of them and “Greendale” in particular are far too long for the quality of the material on offer. Young seems to me to be getting a bit lost during this phase and as a long time fan even I was finding some of this difficult, apart from “Silver And Gold” the most satisfying albums were the live ones, while they were not on a par with “Live Rust” they were not bad despite their flaws. Fortunately there was to be better to follow though.

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    • Yep, Silver And Gold is the peak of this period for me. There’s still a lot of excellent music to be found but, as you pointed out, the length of the albums was working against him. I don’t think the record company had anything to do with it. This was an era when artists wanted to fill up each disc as much as possible just because the space was there. Whereas the maximum length of an LP ranged from 35-45 minutes during the 70s & 80s (and those who extended it reduced the sound quality), CD’s could fit 74 (and later just under 80) minutes. Many single CDs in the late-90s & early-00s were close to 80 minutes, which was longer than the average double-album from the 70s. Back then, double-albums were special releases, and only the best artists made them work from start to finish. At some point the quality gets diluted, and even the good stuff is harder to enjoy.

      Thanks for the feedback. You & I have a lot in common when it comes to Neil’s catalog. Even though you’ve been a dedicated fan for a lot longer than I have, it’s nice to know that I was drawn to many of the same albums & songs that you were.

      Cheers!
      Rich

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