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When Crosby Stills Nash & Young reunited in 1974 for the stadium juggernaut that would come to be historically known as the “Doom Tour,” it was definitely a huge deal.

But several reports from the road at the time were an equally mixed bag. After a very promising start in Seattle – described by most who were there (including this 18 year old at- the-time observer), as an epic four-hour blowout – many later accounts from the tour focused as much on the clashing egos and all-around backstage excess, as they did on the music itself.

By the time of the final shows, much of this had spilled over to the performances themselves.

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Besides those four famously harmonizing voices starting to show certain signs of road-wear, the tension between them – by this time, Neil Young was traveling separately from the others – began to manifest itself onstage as well. Some shows, despite production values (particularly in sound and lighting) which were state-of-the-art at the time, were also reportedly just plain sloppy.

Which coming 40 years after the fact, makes CSNY 1974 a particularly remarkable achievement.

Like the “Doom Tour’ itself, a lot of what you get on this 3-CD boxed set (which also includes a bonus DVD featuring eight of the performances) is hit-and-miss to be sure. The harmonies are not always as perfectly in synch as you’d like, and occasionally the music meanders a bit too (“Wooden Ships”).

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But for the most part, this boxed set manages to bottle the magic, both of the time and of CSNY themselves, pretty well. The audio quality, overseen by Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein, is mostly immaculate, particularly considering both the vintage of these recordings, and the size of the venues they were sourced from.

The oft-reported onstage bickering from the tour, is replaced here with a sense of warm – albeit possibly manufactured – camaraderie between the four men. While there may be a legitimate suspicion of some revisionist history in the editing room going on here (they did have 40 years to work on this, after all), there is also no question that for purposes serving this project, it works, and in that sense, that it’s also appropriate.

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The really good news here though, is that some of these performances are also positively stunning. With each of these four individuals bringing fresh, new solo material to the table, CSNY had a wealth of great new material to choose from for their 1974 reunion tour. The Neil Young songs represented here sound particularly good, including rarities like “Pushed It Over The End” and “Love Art Blues.”

But on the title track of his then current solo album On The Beach, Neil turns in the single greatest performance of the entire boxed set. He really leans into the vocal here, bringing a rare intensity and stretching his range far beyond what you hear on the studio version. He even improvs a few new lines, such as “that may mean nothing to you, but I was alone at the microphone.” There is also a fiery, if regrettably brief, exchange of guitar fireworks between Young and Stephen Stills near the end.

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If there is any legitimate complaint to be made here, it’s that you don’t hear more of that on CSNY 1974.

In addition to “On The Beach,” you do get a few more tastes of those storied guitar shoot-outs on Young’s “Revolution Blues” and “Ohio”; Stills’ “Black Queen”; and Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair.” Curiously, although you can find several lengthy jams from CSNY’s 1974 tour simply by searching them out on YouTube, you’ll find nothing here that matches the epic versions of “Carry On” and “Southern Man” heard on CSNY’s first official live album, 1970′s 4-Way Street.

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As a pristine sounding, if likely somewhat sanitized document of the historic “Doom Tour” though, CSNY 1974 works much better than it has any right to. It also makes you wonder what might have been, if they’d put the egos and the substances aside, and made that third studio album back then.

Sadly, we’ll never know.

*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.

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Crazy Horse bassist Billy Talbot has suffered a mild stroke, and will not be performing with the band when Neil Young hits the road for a string of dates in Europe this summer. Filling in for Talbot – who is expected to make a full recovery – will be longtime Neil Young cohort Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas, who has performed with Young in bands ranging from Buffalo Springfield and CSNY to The Restless and The Blue Notes.

Neil Young’s label Warner Brothers has released the following statement, regarding Billy Talbot and Crazy Horse’s upcoming European tour dates:

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June 30th, 2014 – (Burbank, CA.) – Neil Young & Crazy Horse bassist Billy Talbot has suffered a mild stroke and will not be able to join Crazy Horse on their upcoming European tour. Though Talbot’s doctors expect him to make a full recovery, they have advised Talbot to sit this tour out and recover his strength.

Crazy Horse will be joined on tour by Rick Rosas, who has played with Young extensively throughout the years, including in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

The Crazy Horse line-up will also be enhanced by backing vocalists, Dorene Carter and YaDonna West, best known for their memorable work with their own group Mahogany Blue.

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We send our best wishes to Billy Talbot for a full and speedy recovery.

Here are the European tour dates for Neil Young & Crazy Horse this summer:

07/07 Reykjavik Laugardsholl
07/10 Cork Marquee
07/12 London British Summer Time
07/13 Liverpool Liverpool Echo Arena
07/15 Turkey Kucokcitifix Park
07/17 Tel Aviv Hayarkon Park
07/20 Ulm Munsterplatz
07/21 Barolo Open Air Barolo
07/23 Vienna Stadthalle
07/25 Munchengladbach Hockey Park
07/26 Dresden Elbufer
07/28 Mainz Norde Mole Open Air
07/30 Copenhagen Forum
08/01 Bergen Bergen Festival
08/03 Stockholm Music and Arts Festival
08/05 Lockeren Lockeren Festival
08/07 Monte Carlo Sporting Club
08/08 Alsace Festival de la Foire aux Vins

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The wait is almost over. The long rumored, often delayed boxed set chronicle of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1974 tour – often dubbed the “Doom Tour” – will be released on July 8, according to a report published this week by Rolling Stone.

With the now official title of CSNY 1974, the long awaited set will be made available in a number of formats, including a sure to be pricey 3 CD/DVD set, a Pure Audio Blu-Ray (192kHz/24-bit) and a more affordable 16-track single CD. There will also be a limited edition vinyl version that includes a coffee table-sized book, in addition to six records pressed on 180-gram 12” vinyl.

CSNY 1974 was overseen by Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein, with additional input from David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young, each of whom had final say over which of their performances made the final cut.

Neil Young fans should be particularly pleased with the track-listing, as it includes such rarely played gems as “On The Beach,” “Don’t Be Denied” and “Revolution Blues,” as well as the ultra-rare “Love Art Blues,” “Pushed It Over The End” and “Goodbye Dick,” a track written just days after the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.

The DVD includes eight songs taken from shows at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland, and at London’s Wembley Stadium. Pro-shot video from Wembley in particular has circulated on bootlegs and through internet sites like YouTube for years (we’ve even posted some of it here from time to time). Although the quality of these videos has been generally good, one has to assume it would be much better on the long awaited official release.

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Here is the official track listing for both the boxed-set and single disc edition of CSNY 1974 courtesy of Rolling Stone:

Disc One – First Set

1. “Love The One You’re With”
2. “Wooden Ships”
3. “Immigration Man”
4. “Helpless”
5. “Carry Me”
6. “Johnny’s Garden”
7. “Traces”
8. “Grave Concern”
9. “On The Beach”
10. “Black Queen”
11. “Almost Cut My Hair”

Disc Two – Second Set

1. “Change Partners”
2. “The Lee Shore”
3. “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”
4. “Our House”
5. “Fieldworker”
6. “Guinevere”
7. “Time After Time”
8. “Prison Song”
9. “Long May You Run”
10. “Goodbye Dick”
11. “Mellow My Mind”
12. “Old Man”
13. “Word Game”
14. “Myth Of Sisyphus”
15. “Blackbird”
16. “Love Art Blues”
17. “Hawaiian Sunrise”
18. “Teach Your Children”
19. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”

Disc Three – Third Set

1. “Déjà Vu”
2. “My Angel”
3. “Pre-Road Downs”
4. “Don’t Be Denied”
5. “Revolution Blues”
6. “Military Madness”
7. “Long Time Gone”
8. “Pushed It Over The End”
9. “Chicago”
10.”Ohio”

Bonus DVD

1. “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”
2. “Almost Cut My Hair”
3. “Grave Concern”
4. “Old Man”
5. “Johnny’s Garden”
6. “Our House”
7. “Déjà Vu”
8. “Pushed It Over The End”

Single CD Track Listing:

1. “Love The One You’re With”
2. “Wooden Ships”
3. “Immigration Man”
4. “Helpless”
5. “Johnny’s Garden”
6. “The Lee Shore”
7. “Change Partners”
8. “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”
9. “Our House”
10. “Guinevere”
11. “Old Man”
12. “Teach Your Children”
13. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”
14. “Long Time Gone”
15. “Chicago”
16. “Ohio”

nilsfacethemusicOver the course of an amazing career that is still going strong after five decades – just last week, he wrapped up two years on the road with the E Street Band – you’d think that Nils Lofgren doesn’t have much left to prove.

Lofgren is of course, best known as Bruce Springsteen’s “other” guitarist, ever since 1984′s Born In The U.S.A. tour (his membership in the E Street Band just got him inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame this year), and prior to that, for his work with Neil Young on albums like After The Gold Rush, Tonight’s The Night and Trans.

But in-between those high profile gigs, Lofgren has also quietly built an impressive body of work on his own. Turns out, he has also been even more prolific than many of us thought.

But we’ll get to that in a minute.

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As a solo artist, and on major-label albums like the now sadly, long out-of-print Cry Tough, Lofgren flew under the commercial radar for decades. Despite being recognized by critics as being just as formidable a singer/songwriter as he was a guitarist, the albums still didn’t sell. The thing is, once the major labels lost interest, Lofgren kept right on going on his own. Adopting the now commonplace business model of selling his music through his own label (Cattle Track Road Records), and through his own website, Lofgren has released no less than ten solo albums since 1993, in addition to those he has put out dating back to the 1970s’ and further.

Seriously, who knew?

A career-spanning, retrospective Nils Lofgren boxed set covering his work as a solo artist (and outside of his day job with Springsteen), has certainly been long-overdue. But even the most diehard fans may not be prepared for the sheer volume of material that makes up Concord’s Face The Music (due in stores later this summer).

At ten discs and 169 tracks, this is nothing less than the motherlode. In addition to the seven discs worth of music history – from Lofgren’s first band Grin (which he founded in 1968 at 17 years old), right up through 2011′s self-released Old School – there are two discs of rare and unreleased material and a DVD of live performances.

nilsfacethemusic2A 136 page fully-illustrated book, edited by noted rock critic and historian Dave Marsh, also effectively functions as Lofgren’s autobiography, written in his own words (including the war stories from the road with Bruce and Neil that one would expect). It also features Lofgren’s track-by-track analysis and testimonials from many of the rock legends he has worked with, including Ringo Starr, Bono and Sting.

Although it may simply prove too much to digest for some (at least in a single sitting), those willing to dive into the wealth of material offered on Face The Music will be richly rewarded for taking the plunge. The songs included were all cherry-picked by Nils Lofgren himself, and despite what you might be inclined to think (and forgiven for thinking it), there are very few clunkers in the bunch.

The highlights here are way too numerous to mention, but a few can be singled out. The near-hits like “Cry Tough,” “I Came To Dance,” “Wonderland,” “Back It Up,” and “Incidentally…It’s Over” are all here of course. There are the songwriting collaborations with Lou Reed (“A Fool Like Me”; “Driftin’ Man”; “Life”), as well as the expected covers of songs from Springsteen (“Wreck On The Highway”) and Neil Young (“Mr. Soul,” “I Am A Child” and “World On A String,” all drawn from Lofgren’s 2008 Neil Young tribute album The Loner).

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The rarities included here also yield a few gems. A touching eulogy to Clarence Clemons (“Miss You “C”), also name-checks Danny Federici and other fallen E Street Band comrades. A much earlier recording with Grin (“Beggar’s Day”), that was also intended for inclusion on Crazy Horse’s 1971 debut “solo album,” similarly eulogizes original Horse guitarist Danny Whitten.

But what may be the biggest selling point of this boxed-set (at least for for those who think they already have it all), comes in the form of a previously unheard performance of Lofgren’s cult hit “Keith, Don’t Go,” featuring backing vocals and piano from none other than Neil Young himself.

While a few of the more recently recorded rarities here – with titles like “Old School,” “60 Is the New 18,” and “Ain’t Too Many of Us Left” – may reveal a few things of their own, what Face The Music proves more than anything is that Nils Lofgren works just as well on his own, as he does with others.

First published at Blogcritics Magazine.

letterhome_frontA few weeks ago, Neil Young borrowed a page from the Beyonce playbook, and surprised fans by releasing his new album with little fanfare.

Adding to the mystery, the album was initially sold exclusively through Jack White’s Third Man Records website, and made available only in vinyl format.

A more traditional CD release, along with what is best described as a questionable deluxe boxed set, will be out in record stores later this month.

This being Neil Young of course, the unorthodox distribution and out-of-nowhere arrival of A Letter Home only begins to scratch the surface of the quirky oddness associated with this interesting, but equally strange and perplexing new record.

Neilleterbox

For starters, the album consists entirely of non-original songs first recorded by other artists, making this Neil Young’s second album of covers in just under two years, following 2012′s Americana (with Crazy Horse). It was also recorded in an old-fashioned record booth – specifically, the Voice-O-Graph located at Jack White’s Third Man Records.

neilboothFor the uninitiated, this is quite literally, a telephone booth where you can also record yourself.

Think of something like an audio counterpart to those old-fashioned novelty photo booths you see at rural county fairs, roadside attractions and the occasional Walmart. As a recording space, it’s just about big enough to fit Neil Young and his acoustic guitar.

This album does also include some piano though. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how they pulled that one off.

Because of its decidedly low-tech quality (a sharp contrast to the PONO recording technology that he is coincidentally also currently promoting), at first blush, A Letter Home comes across as either the most organic sounding recording Neil Young has made in ages, or simply the latest in a long line of ill-advised genre experiments. On a few initial listens at least, you have to ask the question:

Is this Neil Young’s Nebraska or his most ridiculous blunder since the Shocking Pinks?

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. When the album works – as it surprisingly often does – the pops and cracks heard throughout, on songs like Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain,” lend themselves to a weird, yet warm sort of ambiance. What comes most immediately to mind are the ancient blues and folk recordings one normally would expect to find on those original Folkways recordings stored somewhere deep within the Smithsonian.

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Neil also does a nice job of lovingly recapturing the harmonizing magic of the Everly Brothers here on “I Wonder If I Care As Much.” The love letters from Neil to his Mom are also the sort of nice sentimental Hallmark touch, that comes just in time for Mothers Day.

But nowhere does this approach work better, than on the late Bert Jansch’s “Needle Of Death.” More than anything else on this album, Neil Young kills it here, with a version that comes across as both reverent and revealing. Neil Young’s admiration for Jansch has long been a matter of public record – he has been often quoted in interviews saying that this song was the inspiration for his own “Ambulance Blues.”

Hearing Neil Young cover this song in the most stripped-to-the-bone version imaginable, that connection becomes unmistakable.

Unfortunately, and despite what appear to be good intentions on Neil Young’s part, much of the rest of A Letter Home falls disappointingly short of the mark.

His attempt at Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” sounds every bit as forced and contrived as anything from the infamously bad faux-rockabilly of Everybody’s Rockin’.

And just how Neil Young managed to stuff the clunky barroom sounding piano heard on Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” and Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe” into Jack White’s Voice-O-Graph phono-booth remains a mystery for the ages, perhaps best left to late night cable TV.

On a side note, Neil Young and Jack White are both scheduled as guests this Monday night on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. One can only hope for a duet with Neil Young, and well, you know “Neil Young.”

*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.

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Earlier this week, Warner Brothers announced that Neil Young’s A Letter Home will get its proper commercial release on May 27, following last week’s surprise vinyl release through the Third Man Records website on National Record Store Day.

In addition to a standalone commercial CD, the album will also be released in a deluxe boxed set version.

According to the Warner Brothers press release, Reprise will release the complete box set, which includes a special “direct feed from the booth” audiophile vinyl version and a DVD that captured the original electro-mechanical process, on May 27. The box also includes seven 6-inch vinyl discs, and a bonus disc that includes outtakes from the original recordings.

Here are the details, per the press release:

Standard audio LP pressed on 180-gram black vinyl
Audiophile LP pressed on 180-gram black vinyl
Standard audio CD
DVD with footage from the recording
12″ x 12″, 32-page full color booklet
Download card for hi-res Audiophile version of album
Seven 6″ vinyl discs pressed on clear vinyl.
The 7th disc of this set features a version of Dylan’s
“Blowin’ In The Wind” backed with an alternate take / arrangement of “Crazy”

Neilleterbox

Neil Young also released the first video from A Letter Home this week. This cover of Bert Jansch’s “Needle Of Death,” like the rest of A Letter Home, was recorded in the refurbished 1947 Voice-O-Graph recording booth at Third Man’s Nashville headquarters.

Listening to this, it’s easy to see the connection between Jansch’s original composition, and Neil Young’s own “Ambulance Blues” (a connection that Neil himself has acknowledged on a number of occasions). We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Third Man Records has posted the cover art and track listing for Neil Young’s upcoming new album A Letter Home.

Front:
letterhome_front

Back:
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As expected, the album is a “low-tech” mix of cover songs, recorded in the record booth at Jack White’s Third Man Records. Production on the album is credited to Jack White & Neil Young on the back cover.

Interestingly, although a release date is not given on the Third Man site, the album is listed as being “in stock” and available to order for $20.00. If any of our readers tries to order it, please let us know if you receive your copy – in which case, we will be all too happy to report that Neil Young’s A Letter Home is apparently out now.

Here is the track listing for A Letter Home: (Thanks to Third Man Records)

1. Changes (Ochs)
2. Girl From The North Country (Dylan)
3. Needle Of Death (Jansch)
4. Early Morning Rain (Lightfoot)
5. Crazy (Nelson)
6. Reason To Believe (Hardin)
7. On The Road Again (Nelson)
8. If You Could Read My Mind (Lightfoot)
9. Since I Met You Baby (Hunter)
10.My Hometown (Springsteen)
11.I Wonder If I Care As Much (Everly)

Update: Several internet sources, including JamBase, are now reporting that Neil Young’s A Letter Home is in fact now available for sale, and can be ordered (in vinyl format only) from Third Man Records. The vinyl album will also be available for sale at select, independent record stores for Saturday’s annual National Record Store Day festivities.

Yes, it’s OUT!

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