nybluenotecafeEver since Neil Young began digging deep into his Archives, he has proven to be a master curator of his rather considerable musical legacy.

The one thing that is certain, is the long-awaited arrival of the first installment of several projected Archives boxed-sets back in 2009 – slow train coming that it was – certainly proved to be worth the wait.

But for diehard Neil Young fans, the real fun in finally getting there came in the slow, but steady trickle of live recordings leading up to that opus. Among its many treasures, Neil Young’s Archives Performance Series (or NYAPS) has thus far yielded several legendary live acoustic performances (Massey Hall 1971, and Live At Canterbury House 1968 being chief among them), as well as the blistering amps-turned-up-to-eleven performance heard on Crazy Horse At The Fillmore 1970.

With a similarly timed series of live recordings from the vaults serving as the assumed prequel to the next volume of Neil Young’s Archives apparently now well under way – well, the hits, as they once liked to say in the old-school music business, they just keep on coming.

And in many ways, Bluenote Café may be the best volume yet from this amazing series. If nothing else, it is certainly among the most interesting, both historically and musically.

Bluenote Café captures Neil Young at one of the more pivotal crossroads of his career. Touring behind the album This Note’s For You (best known for how the controversial title track railed against the then still relatively new concept of corporate sponsorship of rock and roll), Neil Young was just coming off the bizarre “lost eighties” period that most fans remember for his ill-fated association with Geffen Records, and for the bizarre series of genre experiments (Trans, Everybody’s Rockin’, Old Ways) that nearly derailed his career for good.

NYFAQ Video Vault: Trans Tour In Berlin 1983

As his first record returning back to the more friendly folks at Reprise, This Note’s For You was also the last of these genre-bending recordings – a big-band blues album.

It also was a surprise hit, largely because of the controversial video for the title track, that MTV was more or less forced into playing (despite their initial reluctance). Neil Young’s next album – 1989’s Freedom, the classic that jump-started his 1990s artistic and commercial resurrection from the dead, was still a few months down the road. But you can hear much of the explosiveness of that period already percolating here.

Much of what is heard on Bluenote Café reflects the semi-forced sounding feel of the last of those 1980’s vanity projects – the big horn section sounds clunky at times, and when Neil Young is playing the role of a blue man singing the whites, it never feels completely natural. Even so, Neil Young sounds more relaxed here than on any of the other officially released live recordings from the much-maligned “lost eighties” period (save for perhaps parts of what is heard on A Treasure, the 2011 NYAPS live recording that captures Neil’s 1980’s country phase).

But Neil Young’s guitar playing throughout this recording is absolutely incendiary, foreshadowing the explosiveness of what was still to come on Freedom, Ragged Glory, Mirror Ball and the rest of his improbable 1990s run of amazing albums. The main draw for fans here will be pre-release versions of Freedom’s “Crime In The City” and the opus “Ordinary People” (which was finally officially released two decades later on 2007’s Chrome Dreams II). Despite the occasionally forced quality of some of the bluesier stuff, the band – particularly those horns – sound tight as a drum.

In short, this is some really great shit.

Grade: A-

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!







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.


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


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”).


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.


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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