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Archive for October, 2012

Music Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

Psychedelic Pill – Neil Young’s second album since reuniting with Crazy Horse earlier this year – is his most eagerly anticipated new recording in years, if not decades. The reasons for this are, of course, obvious. It’s a new recording of original material from Neil Young & Crazy Horse already.

The good news is that this is also Neil Young’s best album – Crazy Horse or otherwise – in a good long while.

One of the things that makes Neil Young, well, “Neil Young,” is the way that he has steadfastly – some would say stubbornly – followed his artistic muse over the course of his long and legendary career. But it has also just as often as not, alienated bandmates (including those in Crazy Horse); frustrated fans; and at one point, even caused his own label to sue him for failing to make “Neil Young” records.

The thing is, Neil Young always manages to find his way back, even following these long periods of what at least appears to be artistic flux. He last did it with Freedom in 1989, a “comeback” record made following nearly ten years of often confusing, confounding genre experimentation.

At the time it was released, Freedom shocked a lot of people. This was the unexpected, but completely natural and organic sounding followup to 1979’s classic Rust Never Sleeps, that he probably could have made at any point during those so-called years lost in the wilderness in the ’80s. But for whatever reasons (and who knows what goes on in Neil Young’s brain?), he chose not to.

Freedom was followed in short order by a brilliant creative run in the early to mid-’90s, that produced a series of albums (Ragged Glory, Harvest Moon and Sleeps With Angels chief among them), which rivaled (and some would say even surpassed) his best work in the ’70s.

On an initial couple of listens, Psychedelic Pill feels like exactly this type of album.

Not that the last several years haven’t produced some admirable work, because they have. But near-great albums like Le Noise have just as often been book-ended by lesser records like Fork In The Road, or even this year’s earlier Americana collection of folk standards given the cranked-up Crazy Horse treatment. Nothing particularly God-awful terrible there or anything. Just nothing all that memorable in the long run.

But because Neil Young – at least when he is hitting on all four cylinders, and despite all of his hits and misses over the years – has established such a high artistic standard, his fans just as often place equally lofty demands on the man. Taken on that level, Psychedelic Pill delivers the goods and then some.

Of the eight songs on this two-disc collection (nine if you count the alternate mix of the title track), three of them exceed the fifteen minute mark, and one of them, the opening “Driftin’ Back,” clocks in at nearly half an hour. A lot of this material will also sound suspiciously familiar to long time Neil Young fans. So, if the thunderous power chords that open “Psychedelic Pill” remind you more than a little of “The Loner,” just remember that as the man himself once said, “it’s all the same song.”

But what a damn song!

As one might expect, the lengthier songs on this album (“Walk Like A Giant,” “Ramada Inn” and especially “Driftin’ Back”), serve mainly as launchpads for the sort of psychedelic guitar explorations that will delight longtime Neil Young fans. These songs will take them right back to albums like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Zuma and Ragged Glory.

But where the music mirrors the grungey, psychedelic feel of those classics, it does not sound the least bit dated. As much as Psychedelic Pill is every bit the classic Neil Young & Crazy Horse album you’d expect, it also has a very modern feel.

On the opening “Driftin’ Back,” the lyrics are as abstract as the music is hypnotic. When Neil Young references things like “writing in my book, locking all the thoughts out,” or how “I used to dig Picasso, then the big tech giant came along and turned him into wallpaper,” it’s almost as though you were reading scribblings from his diary. The closest comparison lyrically, would be the darker, more personal corners of the “Ditch Trilogy” albums like On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night.

Neil also has some choice words for modern recording technology here (“Don’t want my MP3, when you hear my song now, you only get five per cent”). Lines like these read more like random thoughts than song lyrics – like peaking into someone’s private journal. Neil Young has rarely been this forthright in his songwriting. The oddest thing is that he seems so relaxed and comfortable with it.

This is taken to a borderline ridiculous extreme on “Walk Like A Giant,” where Neil muses about how “he used to walk like a giant on the land” and how “me and some of my friends were gonna’ save the world” before the “weather changed and it fell apart.” As weighty, and as much as this might sound like the confessions of an aging rock legend staring down at the ticking clock of his own mortality, consider that this takes place in between glorious washes of feedback and, of all things, almost cavalier sounding whistling sounds.

The nostalgia trip continues, but lightens up considerably on the much shorter “Twisted Road.” In another time, this would have been a sure-fire hit single for Neil Young. “Twisted Road” has got a hook that is every bit as big as “Cinnamon Girl” or “Mr. Soul.” As is, the song serves as this album’s trademark catchy, slightly dirty rocker – think of it as Psychedelic Pill’s “Fuckin’ Up.”

In the full band arrangement here, fleshed out considerably by Crazy Horse from the acoustic version being played on the current tour, the song’s nostalgic look back to the days of Dylan and the Dead is certain to resonate with the boomer contingent of Neil’s fan base. Either way, it’s just an all-around great song.

Every ten years or so, Neil Young takes a break from chasing the muse every which way it leads, to make that one great, completely effortless sounding album he seems to be able to make at will.

For right now, Psychedelic Pill is that record. Papa’s got a Rolling Stone.

Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine

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Following this weekend’s successful webcast of the annual Bridge School benefit concerts, Neil Young is continuing his very busy — and very interactive — year, by giving fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with him directly today.

As part of Twitter’s #LegendsOnTwitter campaign, fans tweeting Neil at his Twitter page @neilyoung today, will be able to ask him their own direct questions by using the hash tag #AskNeil. According to a press release from Warner Brothers, the artist himself will then answer the fan questions (or, one would assume, at least as many as he can).

From yesterday’s press release:

For the first time, Young will connect directly with his fans through Twitter’s @TwitterMusic handle- all in real time. Twitter is very excited to participate in facilitating Neil’s opportunity to connect with fans across the world.

In other Neil Young news, starting today fans can also stream the upcoming Neil Young & Crazy Horse album Psychedelic Pill (due October 30) in it’s entirety at NeilYoung.com. Neil Young & Crazy Horse also resume their tour on Thursday in Tuscaloosa, AL., before heading to New Orleans and then the Pacific Northwest (where we hope to see some of you in Seattle on November 10).

And if you happen to tweet Neil today (remember the handle @neilyoung and the hashtag #AskNeil), be sure to mention that Neil Young FAQ sent you!

The rest of the remaining tour dates are listed below:

Oct 25 Tuscaloosa, AL Tuscaloosa Amphitheater
Oct 26 New Orleans, LA Voodoo Fest
Nov 10 Seattle, WA Key Arena
Nov 11 Vancouver, BC Rogers Arena
Nov 13 Calgary, AB Scotiabank Saddledome
Nov 14 Saskatoon, SK Credit Union Centre
Nov 16 Winnipeg, MB MTS Centre
Nov 19 Toronto, ON Air Canada Centre
Nov 20 Kitchener, ON Memorial Auditorium
Nov 23 Montreal, QC Bell Centre
Nov 24 Ottawa, ON Scotiabank Place
Nov 26 Boston, MA TD Garden
Nov 27 New York, NY Madison Square Garden
Nov 29 Philadelphia, PA Wells Fargo Center
Nov 30 Fairfax, VA Patriot Center
Dec 3 Brooklyn, NY Barclays Center
Dec 4 Bridgeport, CT Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard

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With just two weeks to go until the arrival of Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Psychedelic Pill, the video countdown is officially now well underway.

We posted the first video — an edited down, much shorter version of “Walk Like A Giant,” the same new song which often stretches to 20 minutes (or longer) on the current Crazy Horse tour, just a few weeks ago:

Walk Like A Giant

Since then, two new videos have arrived.

The first of these, for the song “Ramada Inn” came about a week ago. Unlike “Walk Like A Giant,” the clip for “Ramada Inn” features the complete, unedited track in all of it’s 16 minute plus, ragged glory. Although the actual song is anchored by a deceptively simple chord progression (“it’s all the same song”), it also features some of the wildest, most fuzzed out extended guitar breaks heard on a Neil Young record this side of songs like “Change Your Mind” and “Down By The River,” or, for that matter, classic Crazy Horse albums from Zuma to Ragged Glory.

Definitely, some wild-ass geetar on this one.

Ramada Inn

More surprising is the video for the new song “Twisted Road.” Neil Young has been performing this song as part of a short acoustic set on the current tour. But here, it gets a full band arrangement with Crazy Horse that, at least in our opinion, gives the song much added depth. The video also follows the lyrical narrative of the song more closely than the other two songs released thus far, combining some vintage concert shots of Dylan, Roy Orbison and the Grateful Dead with a road montage that somewhat mirrors the video for “Ramada Inn.”

Although the edited version of “Walk Like A Giant” seems to have been designed as a “single” (or whatever that outdated music industry term even means these days), we found the Crazy Horse version of “Twisted Road” to be the more radio friendly track by far.

Twisted Road

Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s new album Psychedelic Pill arrives October 30. Thanks to the Neil Young YouTube channel.

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Is there a new Neil Young & Crazy Horse live album in the works?

We’re not sure either. But there was an interesting — and intriguing — new post yesterday over at Neil Young Times, that included what looked a lot like a potential album cover for just such a project (if indeed, such a thing is even being planned).

.

Presumably, the Alchemy concert poster — which is also a slight variation on the cover art for the forthcoming Psychedelic Pill album — was designed for the second leg of the current Neil Young & Crazy Horse tour. But if this is the case, that would also mean that the current tour has apparently been re-branded from its original theme of “Past. Present. Future.”

Whatever the case, the striking similarity to the Psychedelic Pill cover also makes it look a lot like an album (or DVD) jacket in its own right. The somewhat vague (we presume intentionally) news piece on Neil Young Times does little to clarify things one way or the other:

The third episode of A Rust Trilogy, which began with Rust Never Sleeps in 1978, and continued with Weld in 1990, now concludes with Alchemy in 2012. Things have changed, yet they stay the same. Alchemy, like Rust and Weld, finds the boys at another stage of life’s journey. Time has taken its toll, yet the spirit seems unstoppable.

And so, the plot thickens.

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For those of you who missed it — and for those of you who had the misfortune of trying to watch via the AXS-TV cable coverage, you missed quite a bit — Saturday’s Neil Young & Crazy Horse set from the Global Citizen Festival free concert in New York’s Central Park, was a barn-burner.

Following spirited sets from The Black Keys and Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters (who may or may not have announced they are breaking up), Neil Young & Crazy Horse took to the stage with a feedback drenched fifteen minute version of “Love & Only Love” from the classic Ragged Glory album.

From there, they went right into “Powderfinger” from Rust Never Sleeps. Next up was a pair of lengthy jams from the upcoming Psychedelic Pill — “Born In Ontario” and “Walk Like A Giant,” the latter ending with a torrent of noisy, thunderous feedback.

It was classic, trademark Crazy Horse.

The show closed with Neil Young & Crazy Horse joined by Grohl, the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and the rest of the performers for a raucous version of “Rockin’ In The Free World.”

Of course, if you watched, or tried to watch, any of this on the cable network AXS-TV, you missed a lot of this. It was fairly clear before Neil and Crazy Horse even played a note, that the AXS-TV announcer was clueless about Neil Young. She also barely hid her apparent disdain, openly complaining that “the headliner takes the stage when he wants,” and sighing contemptuously as she announced “another Neil Young video” during the wait.

From there, AXS-TV’s bush-league coverage went from bad to worse. The “reporting team” broke away from Neil’s set several times to “report” on a “breaking story” involving a scuffle between hip-hop stars Rick Ross and Young Jeezy during a BET Awards show in Atlanta. It was quickly determined that early reports of gunfire proved erroneous.

Nonetheless, the network continued to stream a banner about the “story” for the remainder of Neil Young’s set, and also to break away for numerous updates, even after the earlier rumors proved to be exaggerations. The whole thing was unprofessional at least, and an insult to both the viewing audience and especially the performers involved.

The AXS-TV facebook page was flooded with complaints soon after, most of which were removed by Sunday morning (including ours).

Anyway, for those who had the misfortune of DVR’ing the AXS-TV “coverage” like we did (or who otherwise missed Neil’s set), we have both the setlst and video from You Tube below:

Setlist:

01. Love and Only Love
02. Powderfinger
03. Born In Ontario
04. Walk Like A Giant
05. The Needle And The Damage Done
06. Twisted Road
07. Fuckin’ Up
08. Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World
(w/ Dave Grohl, Pat Smear, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett and Taylor Hawkins [Foo Fighters], Dan Auerbach [The Black Keys] and K’NAAN

Performance: A
AXS-TV Coverage: F

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