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ny-monsantocoverNeil Young + Promise Of The Real – The Monsanto Years

Ever since 2012’s superb reunion with Crazy Horse on Psychedelic Pill, Neil Young has run-off a steady, but increasingly spotty string of albums: including last fall’s symphonic experiment Storytone and the even weirder, low-fi covers album A Letter Home (recorded entirely in Jack White’s phono-booth).

On his latest, The Monsanto Years, Neil Young is joined by Promise Of The Real, a band featuring Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah for some good old fashioned, rabble-rousing rock and roll protest music.

The problem when Neil Young makes records like this isn’t so much with the political sentiments he posits in the lyrics – most of which, I share – but rather, with how he delivers the message. On The Monsanto Years, Young literally bludgeons the listener over the head as he rages against the machine, hammering his point home with numerous, repetitious references to such evil agents of the corporate empire as Safeway, Walmart, Starbucks and of course, Monsanto.

nymonsanto What makes the greatest rock and roll protest songs – Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” or even Young’s own “Ohio” for example – the timeless classics they have become, has always been the masterful way they emphasize a certain subtlety over bluster. Songs like “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop” and the title track here on the other hand, tend to trivialize and even dilute the message with an irritating tone that comes off every bit as preachy as anything Dylan recorded during his “Born Again” years.

The good news here though, is that The Monsanto Years rocks far more often than not, and as a backing band, Promise Of The Real bring that same ferocious intensity out of Neil and Old Black as all of his best bands have historically done from Crazy Horse to Pearl Jam. Lukas Nelson’s cleaner guitar sound in particular proves an effective foil to Young’s comparatively more cacophonous shredding. The guitar exchanges between them on songs like “Big Box” occasionally recall the legendary shoot-outs between Young and Stephen Stills.

Not surprisingly though, the two best songs here, the twangy rocker “If I Don’t Know” and the lovely, pastoral “Wolf Moon” are also the ones where he resists name-checking all the corporate bad guys.

Grade: B-

*Excerpted from an article first published at Blogcritics.

Neil rips off a fiery solo during ABC Music Scene taping, 1969 (photo by Jeff Allen)It’s been awhile since we’ve checked in with Jeff Allen, the photographer who provided us with the previously unseen, now iconic photo that graces the cover of Neil Young FAQ.

At the time Jeff grabbed this amazing shot, he was simply one of the lucky few in attendance when Crosby Stills Nash & Young taped their legendary performance of Young’s “Down By The River” for the prime-time ABC TV concert showcase Music Scene show back in 1969.

Flash forward to the present nearly a half century later, and it becomes clear from the amazing series of photos below that Jeff hasn’t lost a step in terms of his eye for capturing a great live performance from the lens of his camera.

All of the shots below are from Stephen Stills and Neil Young’s performance at the Light Up the Blues concert/benefit on 4-25-15 at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, CA.

Thanks again, Jeff!

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Rolling Stone has just published another one of those lists they like doing so much, but this one definitely caught our eye.

The 10 Best Neil Young Deep Cuts as picked by RS readers doesn’t always get it completely right – we’re still scratching our heads wondering how they could’ve missed “Change Your Mind” from Sleeps With Angels (to cite one fairly major omission).

But overall, it’s a very decent list.

The one thing this list manages to nail is some major love for On The Beach – in our own humble opinion, Neil Young’s single most underrated album. Of the ten “deep cuts” listed here – songs that are rarely played on radio, or even by Neil himself in concert – nearly half of them, at four songs total, come from On The Beach.

And of those four, two of them – “Ambulance Blues” and the title track – come from the second side of this amazing album. As one of our readers put it, this is truly a “desert island side.”

We would have liked to have seen “Motion Pictures” in there too of course.

Although we know Neil has performed that song at least once – at a legendarily bootlegged 1974 show from the Bottom Line in New York – there doesn’t appear to be any single standing video document of it in existence, at least on You Tube.

Fortunately for us, Rolling Stone did find some very decent live performance video of the songs that make up the other two-thirds of that amazing second side of On The Beach – rarely played as they are.

RS leads their entry for the song “On The Beach” – #9 on their list – by saying “If there’s any doubt that Neil Young was super bummed out when he made On The Beach in early 1974, listen no further than kicks off the second side of the LP.”

Gee,’…Ya think?

“Ambulance Blues” – which ranks much higher on this list at #2 – has actually been played a little more often. It was in the setlist every night on Neil’s 2007/08 Chrome Dreams II Continental tour.

But in this version, from the annual Bridge School benefit show from 10/17/98, it gets a much different arrangement with backing from R.E.M.

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Earlier this week, Neil Young’s record label Reprise Records issued a press release confirming that Neil Young’s next studio album, The Monsanto Years will be released on June 29. The album is credited as being by Neil Young + Promise Of The Real, giving the band fronted by Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah full and equal billing with Neil Young as the artists behind the project.

From the official press release:

The ecologically/environmentally-focused album will be released via all retailers and in the Neil Young Official Online Store. The Monsanto Years will be available in a special CD + DVD package, vinyl, iTunes, and PonoMusic high-resolution audio. The vinyl package will be released in August. Actual date to be announced shortly. Pre-orders begin today, May 26th. Click here to pre-order.

Beginning today, those who pre-order The Monsanto Years, will instantly receive downloads of two brand new tracks from the album: “Big Box” and “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop.” You can view the video for “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop” right now at DemocracyNow.org.

For this guitar-centric, full steam-ahead and highly-charged rock album, Young is joined by Promise of the Real, an LA-based rock band fronted by Lukas Nelson (vocals/guitar), along with Micah Nelson (guitar, vocals), Anthony Logerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass) and Tato Melgar (percussion). They have performed with their father, Willie Nelson, and Young on previous occasions. For the first time, they recorded together and will now tour under the banner of the Rebel Content Tour. For further information on Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, visit: http://www.promiseofthereal.com/

Here is the full Track Listing for The Monsanto Years:

The Monsanto Years TRACK LISTING:
1. A New Day For Love
2. Wolf Moon
3. People Want To Hear About Love
4. Big Box
5. A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop
6. Workin’ Man
7. Rules Of Change
8. Monsanto Years
9. If I Don’t Know

The Monsanto Years DVD TRACK LISTING:
1. Big Box
2. A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop
3. Rules Of Change
4. Workin’ Man
5. Monsanto Years
6. A New Day For Love
7. Wolf Moon
8. People Want To Hear About Love
9. If I Don’t Know

Here is the official video for “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop” (formerly known as “Rock Starbucks”):

Finally, here are the current summer tour dates (so far) for Neil Young + Promise Of The Real’s Rebel Content tour:

Sun July 5 Milwaukee Summer Fest Milwaukee, WI
Wed July 8 Red Rocks Denver, CO
Thurs July 9 Red Rocks Denver, CO
Sat July 11 Pinnacle Bank Arena Lincoln, NE
Mon July 13 Riverbend Music Center Cincinnati, OH
Tues July 14 DTE Energy Music Theatre Clarkston, MI
Thurs July 16 Susquehanna Bank Center Camden, NJ
Fri July 17 Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Bethel, NY
Sun July 19 Champlain Valley Expo Essex Junction, VT
Tues July 21 Jones Beach Wantagh, NY
Wed July 22 Xfinity Center Great Woods, MA
Fri July 24 Wayhome Festival Oro-Medonte, Canada

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We’re back.

And to those who stuck it out with us during what turned out to be our longest (albeit unintentional) sabbatical away from the blog to date, we thank you for continuing to check in here despite the sorry lack of any new updates.

Now, with that out of the way…

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 25 years since I went to *that* Neil Young concert at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre back in 1989. That night, I was fully expecting a nostalgic greatest hits sort of thing from an artist who at the time seemed fairly deep into what looked like a near irreversible artistic decline.

What I got instead was…well, this:

The new songs Neil performed that night – some of his best work in a decade or more – were originally supposed to be part of a new album with the working title of Eldorado. This super-rare recording never really got a proper release (at least outside of a very limited edition Japanese five-song E.P.).

But most of the songs – including the soon-to-be-anthemic “Rockin’ In The Free World,” performed for the very first time at that same show I witnessed in Seattle – eventually made their way onto Freedom later that year on Reprise. Freedom, as everyone by now knows, ended up becoming the breakthrough “comeback” hit which signaled Neil Young’s artistic and commercial return from the dead.

At the time of its release, Neil Young was just coming off a nearly ten year period marked by a series of bizarre genre-hopping experiments – an artistic malaise that resulted in a shrinking fan base and declining record sales. Music historians now commonly refer to this period as Neil Young’s “lost eighties” (or occasionally as the “Geffen Years,” in reference to his record label back then – the same one that famously sued him for his refusal to make “Neil Young records”).

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Coming in the aftermath of such albums as Trans and Everybody’s Rockin’, Freedom not only arrived as a shock, but also kicked off a glorious, completely unexpected run of latter-day 1990s classics including Ragged Glory, Harvest Moon, Mirror Ball and Sleeps With Angels. As music “comebacks” go, this one has to be counted as among the greatest of all time.

But where all of this really began, was on that same tour with his small, four piece band The Restless, including that jaw-dropping 1989 Seattle show at the Paramount Theatre. Although decent quality bootleg recordings of that show can be found fairly easily by searching the internet, there doesn’t seem too much out there in the way of video.

The clips we’ve posted up here are from a show in St. Louis that happened a few weeks earlier during the same tour. They sound nearly as good as what I can remember from witnessing that amazing night on a stage in Seattle more than a quarter century ago.

The main reason for dredging up all this history now though, is because (as most fans already know), Neil Young has a new album recorded with Willie Nelson’s sons coming out next month called The Monsanto Years. Whether or not this new record will be the same sort of artistic revelation that Freedom was, of course remains to be seen. But the parallels between “then” and “now” are striking.

For one thing, based on his most recently recorded output over the past few years, a decent argument could be mounted right now that Neil Young is deeply mired in an artistic funk not at all dissimilar to those so-called “lost eighties” years. If you examine Neil Young’s last several studio albums closely, you’ll find that two of them (Americana and A Letter Home – the latter of which was recorded entirely in the phono-booth at Jack White’s record shop), contain no new original material at all.

Of the remaining two, the symphonic arrangements heard on 2014’s Storytone would easily qualify it as ranking right up there with Neil Young’s most bizarre genre experiments in the 1980s. Which, at least among his most recent work, really leaves only 2012’s Psychedelic Pill – his long awaited reunion with Crazy Horse – as the sort of album most fans would recognize as the type of record Neil Young is normally best known for.

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Neil Young premiered several of the new songs from The Monsanto Years at a surprise club show in San Luis Opisbo last month, where he was joined onstage by Promise of the Real, a band featuring Willie Nelson’s two sons Lucas and Micah. The band is also featured on the new album and will be joining Neil Young on tour this summer.

The song titles we’ve seen, including “New Day For the Planet” and “Rock Starbucks” suggest a politically charged album along the lines of Young’s infamous Anti-Bush themed 2006 album Living With War – a proposition which could go either way, artistically speaking. Basically Neil Young is letting us know he’s pissed off about GMOs here. Which, if nothing else, means that The Monsanto Years is a sure-fire candidate to divide his fans right down the middle no matter what.

We’ve included some audio from the San Luis Opispo show below to let you judge for yourself. You can also check out a snippet of the new video for “Rock Starbucks” over at Democracy Now (where the video was previewed this past Friday).

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They say celebrity deaths tend to happen in threes, but this is all starting to seem just a little too tragically familiar lately.

Dallas Taylor, best known as the drummer on Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s classic Deja Vu album, passed away this past weekend at age 66. Taylor’s death was first disclosed by his wife Patti McGovern Taylor on her Facebook page, but has since been reported by numerous sources including Rolling Stone and Ultimate Classic Rock.

Although Taylor is perhaps best remembered for his stint with CSN&Y, he also made memorable music with Stephen Stills brief “solo” band Manassas, as well as with Van Morrison, Paul Butterfield and others. The cause of Taylor’s death has not been disclosed at this time.

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Taylor’s death comes less than a week after the passing of bassist Tim Drummond, who worked with Neil Young on most of his classic 1970s albums including Harvest, On The Beach and Comes A Time. It also follows the death of Rick Rosas, who passed away last fall. Rosas worked with Neil Young on and off for three decades, in bands including The Restless and The Blue Notes, most recently filling in for Billy Talbot on Crazy Horse’s European tour dates last year.

Besides his work with Neil Young, Drummond was also one of Bob Dylan’s closest collaborators during his infamous gospel period, co-writing the title track to Saved (the second album in Dylan’s gospel trilogy), and also touring with him during the same period. Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas was a more recent partner, performing with Young on a variety of Neil’s solo projects, and well as on the most recent reunion tours of CSN&Y and Buffalo Springfield.

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Neil Young has not commented publicly (at least as far as we know) on this most recent tragic news involving Dallas Taylor. Young is reportedly already at work on a new album, where he is collaborating with Willie Nelson’s sons.

Aside from the eerie timing of all three musicians – arguably best known as “sidemen” with Neil Young – passing so close to each other, it serves as yet another reminder (along with the recent death of Joe Cocker) that for those of us who grew up during Rock’s “Golden Age” in the 1960s and 70s, we seem to be losing more and more of our heroes these days.

And that yes, Time Fades Away. Goodbye and Godspeed, Dallas, Tim and Rick.

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