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NeilStorytoneLeave it to Neil Young to throw us yet another curve ball this late in his career. By now, most Neil Young fans have long since become accustomed to those occasionally odd artistic whims Young has been known to chase from time to time, in his ever-stubborn pursuit of the muse.

But even judged against such legendarily off-kilter recordings as Trans and This Note’s For You, Neil Young’s new album Storytone comes across as one of the stranger, more unexpected bumps along that twisted road. Much like those infamous genre experiments, the problem here isn’t so much with the songs, but rather with the arrangements – at least on the symphonic versions which take up one of the two discs here.

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Although it has the most memorable musical hook of these ten new songs, the environmental call-to-arms “Who’s Gonna’ Stand Up” is weighted down by an overuse of syrupy sounding strings that overwhelm what is otherwise one of Neil’s catchiest chorus lines this side of “Rockin’ In The Free World.”

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Despite some heavy-handed – and occasionally clunky – lyrical wordplay (“End fracking now, save the water, and build a life for our sons and daughters”), the stripped down version which appears on the solo disc works far better.

But the blistering, curiously unreleased Crazy Horse take that tore down the house nightly in Europe earlier this year, is far superior to either.

The bluesier outings “I Want To Drive My Car” and “Say Hello To Chicago” – besides feeling oddly out of place on this album – likewise fall somewhat flat, and here again, it’s largely due to the arrangements.

In the case of the latter, the best point of reference would be the sort of horn driven, big band bluster you’d expect to find in a dance routine from a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical.

“I Want To Drive My Car” works slightly better, with a feel that recalls the Blue Notes. But the most curious thing about these two songs – other than the fact that they stand out like a sore thumb on this album – is the use of Waddy Wachtel on lead guitar. Wachtel is of course a fine guitarist in his own right, but a little shredding from Neil could’ve taken these songs to another level.

What saves Storytone however, are the two songs which close the record.

“When I Watch You Sleeping” is one of those beautiful, pastoral sounding love songs that Neil Young seems to literally pull out of thin air every now and then. It is also one of the few places on the symphonic side of this album, where the string arrangement simply augments the song with touches of color, rather than threatens to swallow it outright. “All Those Dreams” likewise lays off the classical gas, closing the album with a song reminiscent of the warmest sounding jewels found on Harvest Moon and Prairie Wind.

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There is some discomfort in getting to these two gems though, and if you read between the lines, perhaps a bit too much information regarding the present status of Neil Young’s love life. If I were Pegi Young, I certainly wouldn’t want to be reminded of “the glimmer of everything I once saw in you” that Neil is apparently viewing from his rear view mirror these days, and as a fan I probably didn’t need to know that his current squeeze is nicknamed “Tumbleweed.”

But Neil continues to do as Neil does, and God bless him for it. We don’t always have to like it, but more often than not, we seem to eventually come around. For the record, solo Storytone tops symphonic Storytone by a hair.

But the latter does have its moments.

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With a press release issued earlier this week, Reprise Records confirmed that Neil Young’s new studio album will be released on November 4.

In addition to revealing the album cover art, Reprise also finally settled the million dollar question about the title:

It’s Storytone (not “Storeytone,” as mistakenly reported in an earlier statement from the label, and reprinted both here and elsewhere).

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As expected, the album features 10 brand new compositions recorded live in the studio with a 92-piece orchestra, choir and Young. A two-disc deluxe edition of Storytone will also feature solo versions of the songs (in addition to the full-on orchestral treatment on the standard edition). The album reunites the Volume Dealers production team of Young and Niko Bolas, who have previously worked on such notable albums as Freedom and Living With War.

From the original press release:

In addition to the new single available on Soundcloud, other standout tracks from the album include the bittersweet album opener “Plastic Flowers,” the bluesy swing of “I Want To Drive My Car,” the aching “Tumbleweed,” or the heartfelt “When I Watch You Sleeping.” Each song evokes an entirely different feel within the context of its presentation.

Here is the track listing from the press release for Neil Young’s Storytone:

Plastic Flowers
Who’s Gonna Stand Up?
I Want To Drive My Car
Glimmer
Say Hello To Chicago
Tumbleweed
Like You Used To Do
I’m Glad I Found You
When I Watch You Sleeping
All Those Dreams

In other breaking news, the followup to Neil Young’s 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace has apparently been given a release date. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the second memoir, titled Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars will be available on October 14.

Special Deluxe: A memoir of Life & Cars  by Neil Young

Neil Young also made news this week, by apparently putting any rumors of a CSN&Y reunion this year – or any year – to rest, when he quite unexpectedly announced to a crowd in Philadelphia that “CSNY will never tour again, ever, ” before adding “but I love those guys.”

So for now, it looks like Broken Arrow again. But if history is any indication, never say never. Stay tuned.

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New West Records has announced details on Pegi Young’s fourth album, to be titled Lonely In A Crowded Room.

The album, officially credited to Pegi Young And The Survivors, features a mix of original new songs by Pegi Young, as well as a selection of covers from Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas (“Ruler Of My Heart”); Spooner Oldham (“Lonely Women Make Good Lovers”); and Jerry Ragovoy (“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely”).

The album will be released by New West on 10/27/14. Here is the complete track list:

I Be Weary
Obsession
Better Livin’ Through Chemicals
Ruler Of My Heart
Lonely Women Make Good Lovers
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
Feel Just Like A Memory
In My Dreams
Walking On The Tightrope
Blame It On Me

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Pegi Young And The Survivors will also be supporting the release with a handful of West Coast shows, with more sure to follow.

Here are the tour dates announced thus far:

10/30/14 Seattle, WA Rendezvous Jewelbox Theater
11/02/14 Vancouver, Canada The Media Club
11/07/14 Los Angeles, CA THE MINT
11/09/14 San Juan Capistrano, CA THE COACH HOUSE

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Earlier this week, the release of Neil Young’s new single “Who’s Gonna’ Stand Up?” was announced both via Neil Young’s official website and in a press release issued by Warner/Reprise Records.

A typically barn storming, “rusty” sounding version of the new song was first previewed for European audiences this summer on Neil Young’s tour with Crazy Horse, and was also performed in an acoustic version at this year’s annual Farm-Aid benefit show.

According to the press release from Warner Bros., the song will also appear on Neil Young’s upcoming Storeytone album (amended from the earlier reported spelling of Storytone), due out this November. Based on everything we have heard, the version that will presumably be appearing on Storeytone is the orchestral version, which we have posted immediately below:

Orchestral Version

Here are the other two versions of “Who’s Gonna’ Stand Up?” – the live, full band version with Crazy Horse, and the solo acoustic version – made available this week by Neil Young and Reprise Records.

Live with Crazy Horse

Acoustic Version

Warner Bros. was also kind enough to post this lyric sheet for this great new song, which the press release goes on to describe as a “plea to end our dependence of fossil fuels and realize our responsibility to protect our earth’s fragile eco systems to ensure the quality of life for future generations.”

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To learn more visit Neil Young’s official website.

First off, we humbly apologize to all of our loyal readers for the lack of recent updates, and want to thank those of you who have stuck it out with us anyway during our self-imposed summer sabbatical.

But at least part of the reason for the inactivity here is that, up until recently anyway, there just hasn’t been that much to report on coming out of the Neil Young camp.

With Crazy Horse performing basically the same exact setlists – with only the rare and occasional minor twist here and there – across Europe most of this summer, any daily tour reports seemed pretty pointless and redundant to us. However, much has obviously changed in just the past two weeks.

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We were also somewhat reluctant to report the sad, surprising news about the impending Neil & Pegi Young divorce.

We like to think of the Neil Young FAQ blog as a trusted, reliable go-to news source for the fans. But we also aspire to be the sort of place that Rusties can find out all the latest about the music, and prefer to leave the sordid details about Neil Young’s personal life to the celebrity gossip sheets like TMZ and the like.

That said, we were obviously saddened, and to be perfectly honest, more than a little shocked to hear that what we had always thought of as one of the more solid, and certainly longer lasting marriages in the entertainment world was, to quote a rather obvious lyric here, “headed for the big divorce, California style.”

There have been very few details about this reported in the press, and truthfully speaking, we’d probably rather not know anyway. One has to assume though that both Neil & Pegi’s ongoing involvement in the lives of their special needs children and in related projects like the Bridge School, would indicate they would be maintaining an amicable, professional relationship at the very least.

Either way, we wish them both the best.

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In other news, we were much more excited to hear the reports about a new Neil Young album said to be coming as soon as this November. Based on what we know so far about Storytone though, that excitement comes with an equal measure of healthy concern about what may actually be headed our way with this album.

What we know for sure is that anyone expecting what most fans would traditionally call either “Quiet Neil” or “Loud Neil,” could be in for some major disappointment. In fact, based on the reports currently making the rounds out there on the interwebs, Storytone sounds far more likely to be something like “Orchestral Neil.” Early word is that Neil Young has been recording the album with German-born composer and arranger Chris Walden and producer Niko Bolas.

Young has been talking about an orchestral project for awhile now, recently telling Billboard magazine that “I’d like to make a record with a full-blown orchestra, live — a mono recording with one mic. I want to do something like that where we really record what happened, with one point of view and the musicians moved closer and farther away, the way it was done in the past. To me that’s a challenge and it’s a sound that’s unbelievable, and you can’t get it any other way. So I’m into doing that.”

If you think that this sounds suspiciously like a cross between the recent lo-fi approach of this year’s A Letter Home with Jack White, and another of Young’s genre experiments – the big band blues of This Note’s For You – you wouldn’t be alone.

But you might also be forgiven for thinking that Neil may be veering precariously close to repeating his notorious eighties string of unpredictably wild and often wacky releases. In fact, of Neil Young’s last three albums – and four now, if we are counting Storytone – only one, 2012′s Psychedelic Pill with Crazy Horse, has contained the sort of music that most fans might normally expect to find on a Neil Young record.

The involvement of Niko Bolas likewise throws an “interesting” curve into the mix. Bolas has been involved in both your classic Neil Young records like Freedom, and considerably less spectacular sounding efforts like Landing On Water.

So the good news is that Storytone sounds like it will be “interesting” (there’s that word again). While it is obviously far too early to presume judgment on a record no one has even heard yet, and we welcome any new report of Neil Young once again further stretching his artistic muse, we just hope this falls more toward the Greendale side of “inneresting,” than towards something like the Shocking Pinks.

We’ll hold our tongues for now, and see what happens come November.

Like many of you, we took notice of Arcade Fire’s recent cover of Neil Young’s “Come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown” during their recent show in Winnipeg.

Well okay, maybe it’s more of a Danny Whitten cover. And what’s the deal with the giant heads?

Anyway…

Regardless, Arcade Fire have made these types of cover songs a staple of their current tour. Basically, in each city they perform, they make it a point to perform something by one of that town’s favorite sons.

So, when you come to Winnipeg, a Neil Young connection more than makes sense, right?

But for our purposes here, this got us to thinking about some of our favorite instances of otherwise famous artists covering Neil Young songs.

Let’s start with this one:

A shorter version of this song, from Buddy Miles 1970 Them Changes album, was a staple of the early progressive rock FM stations that briefly flourished from the late 1960s up until around the mid 1970s.

This was right before the corporate interests took over, and the once free-form musical format gave way to the more tightly regimented narrow-casting that remains in place to this day.

Anyway…we’ve always preferred this version, from the long out-of-print Buddy Miles live album.

Buddy was always best known as the power-drummer who played behind the likes of both Mike Bloomfield (in the Electric Flag) and Jimi Hendrix (in the Band of Gypsys). On this stunning version of “Down By The River,” he reveals himself as a surprisingly adept vocalist, and more than capable of a quite soulful interpretation of one of Neil’s greatest songs.

It is hard to imagine there being any voice in modern rock more uniquely qualified (or, for that matter, “matched”) to cover Neil Young than Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.

Radiohead have covered Neil Young numerous times onstage – a routine Google or YouTube search will turn up numerous versions of “After The Gold Rush” and “Tell Me Why.”

But our personal favorite has always been this much rarer version of “On The Beach.” The desolate tone of Yorke’s voice here, suits this song perfectly.

Speaking of voices perfectly suited to Neil Young songs, how about the Man In Black?

Although Cash clearly comes from the opposite end of the tonal spectrum, his deep vocal register literally smacks you in the gut here.

Cash did some of his greatest work with producer Rick Rubin in his final years on the American Recordings series. This is among the least known, and best. The fact that “Pocahontas” is also one of our very favorite Neil Young songs ever, further qualifies its inclusion here.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

Although (sadly) we aren’t actually there, we have been closely (if somewhat vicariously) following Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s current European tour, mostly through the reports on Thrasher’s Wheat and the setlist recaps over on Sugar Mountain, and have found things starting to become really interesting.

As most who follow such things already know, Neil tends to stick to a very basic setlist from night to night, (unlike some of his contemporaries – most notably Bruce Springsteen).

But on recent stops, this tour has found Neil starting to subtly mix things up just a bit – at least by the usual Neil Young standards. Most interesting, has been the recent inclusion of “Living With War” into what looks to be shaping up as a regular nightly spot. In light of Neil’s recent decision to cancel a planned show in Isreal – given the currently volatile situation there – the introduction of this song is more timely than ever.

“Living With War”; Mönchengladbach, GER

“Living With War” also plays nicely with the political theme of the sole new song premiered for European audiences this summer, “Who’s Gonna Stand Up and Save the Earth?.”

At this point, no one is really sure what Neil Young’s next record is going to sound like (although our best guess is probably something acoustic, given the shows already being lined up in America, once the Crazy Horse overseas juggernaut is over).

But if this song (even in a quieter format) is any indication, count us as being onboard.

“Who’s Gonna Stand Up and Save the Earth?”; Marquee Cork, Ireland

Also, nice to see this semi-rarity from the Toast sessions (that ended up on Are You Passionate?) dusted off for the European run. Rumor has it that the entire unreleased Toast sessions may end up on either the second or third Archives boxed set.

“Goin’ Home”; Echo Arena, Liverpool, England

And then, there is this.

When we were first looking at some of the setlists for Europe, and saw “Don’t Cry” listed, what we were hoping for was the feedback frenzy of “Don’t Cry” from 1989′s Eldorado/Freedom sessions.

But we’ll definitely settle for this underplayed gem from Zuma.

“Don’t Cry No Tears”; Marquee Cork, Ireland

Obviously, we wish we were out there on the rail with the rest of the diehard Rusties in Europe. But in the meantime, these videos shot by fans make for a very nice snapshot of all the Ragged Glory currently raging across Europe.

See you this fall, Neil.

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