Tag Archives: Neil Young

Bobby and Neil

My consolation for seeing the summer come to an end is to have not only a new Bob Dylan album to appreciate — Tempest, his best since “Love and Theft” — but a fresh Neil Young release, Psychedelic Pill, coming to banish the stale aftertaste of Americana, a disc that’s already faded from memory only a few months after its appearance. Talk about a banner fall!

Since I started listening to both artists in roughly the same year — 1975, when Blood on the Tracks knocked me sideways, and I had the previous year’s On the Beach and the new Tonight’s the Night and Zuma to obsess over all all in a batch — I’m struck by the difference in the way each man has aged. Dylan, 71, is only about five years older than Neil Young, but for the past two decades his voice has gone from craggy to croaking. Young sounds older, but not in the same way. From Neil Young and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere to Americana, Young’s alley cat yowl is instantly recognizable. Play Tempest after Blood on the Tracks — or even Oh Mercy — for someone untutored in His Bobness and try to get him to believe he’s hearing the same guy.

So what has Neil Young been doing that Bob Dylan hasn’t? Since Young acknowledged in his recent New York Times interview that he’s only just sworn off marijuana, while Dylan has been a heavy cigarette smoker much of his life, maybe this is another argument for legalizing pot. Is there any evidence for dope being easier on the vocal chords than tobacco? Inquiring minds want to know.         

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Friday finds

New York City a century ago, as chronicled in photos from the city Department of Records. The images range from disturbing (two would-be robbers who met their end at the bottom of an elevator shaft) to beautiful (an unidentified man looking at Manhattan from the George Washington Bridge). Most have never before been publicly available.

The hidden rooftops of New York City. One in the Financial District sports a model of a World War I fighter plane.

What do women want? Author Beverly Akerman reads 50 Shades of Grey to find out.

Lock Neil Young into a listening booth with an ocelot? I am so there!

How to make medieval illuminated letter cookies.

Because it had to happen — The Wire: The Musical. With some of the original cast members, yo. So much awesome in one place.

While you’re waiting for next April and the start of the Game of Thrones third season, cool your heels on this replica of the Iron Throne. While you’re at it, you can ponder these scientifically plausible explanations for those highly variable seasons.

Planning to visit Germany? Be sure to spend some quality time at Ferropolis.

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Blue Monday (with green onions)

Since the title of Booker T. Jones’s new disc, Potato Hole, evokes food, let me offer an alternate title: Three Great Tastes That Don’t Necessarily Taste Great Together. Those three being Booker’s Hammond organ, Neil Young’s lead guitar and the Drive-By Truckers’ feedback drenched backup. I love all three, but the combination turns out to be a bit of an acquired taste.

Booker T. Jones (along with guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn) was the cornerstone of Stax Records during the years it offered a harder-edged alternative to Motown.  Up above, Booker T. plays his signature tune “Green Onions” with Cropper, Dunn and a host of young ladies on shimmy. While the bass lays down a firm pulse, Cropper’s guitar darts in and out of the smoky R&B organ sound.

The Drive-By Truckers, who back Booker T. on Potato Hole, are one of the best American rock bands now treading stages, but their Crazy Horse-influenced sound meshes a little too closely with the organ — with Neil Young, another feedback lover, doing his thing as well, Potato Hole sometimes sounds like it has three organ players instead of just one. It’s a listenable record, but these slow-simmering instrumentals are a far cry from Booker’s best Stax work — or, for that matter, Fork in the Road or Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.     

If you’re a fan of any of the participants, though, you’ll want to check out Potato Hole if only for some of the more off-the-wall covers. The idea of Booker T. covering Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya” may sound surprising, but after all, he did the same thing with Simon & Garfunkel and The Young Rascals back in the day. One of the best tracks is “Get Behind the Mule” by Tom Waits, shown here in a concert perfomance from earlier this year in Australia:

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Guitar porn


B.B. King has Lucille, Eddie Van Halen has the Frankenstrat, Jerry Garcia had Tiger, Willie Nelson has Trigger, and Neil Young has Old Black, the heavily modified Gibson Les Paul that has been the cornerstone of the man’s electric sound since the Sixties.

On the DVD that comes with the deluxe edition of Neil Young’s Fork in the Road, there’s a clip of Neil and band playing “A Day in the Life.” Collectors and hardcore fans will be happy to have the clip, but for me the chief point of interest was getting a close look at Old Black during the song’s apocalyptic finale, when Young literally breaks all the strings and swishes the ends across one of the pickups. When the camera comes in close, you can see just how many battles that ax has fought over the years.

This very detailed description of a custom-made Old Black replica guitar includes loving closeups of the guitar’s Bigsby vibrato bar (which Neil uses to alter the pitch on his trademarked feedback howls) and the distinctive aluminum pick guard, which adds to the guitar’s already massive feedback potential.

For more guitar porn, check out the Guitar Friday feature at Kung Fu Monkey, particularly the love ode to the Gibson ES-335.

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‘Keep on blogging ’til the power goes out’

I don’t know what’s going on with the mixed reviews for the new Neil Young disc, Fork in the Road. I bought it without any particular high expectations, and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it ever since. Big loud guitars, big loud beats, big loud tunes. I haven’t taken to one of Neil’s records this quickly since Mirror Ball.

Part of the reason is the backup band. Decades of listening to Neil Young records have trained me to expect that when the grating, rumbling tone of Old Black comes through the speakers, it will be accompanied by the lumbering drums of Ralph Molina. So it’s a pleasure and a surprise to hear Chad Cromwell, who can actually drive the beat instead of stagger along beside it, Molina style. 

Another part of the reason is that Fork in the Road, bum notes and all, showcases some of Neil’s best guitar playing in years. There are no lengthy solos, just short, terse accents and breaks that probably won’t turn up as tabs in Guitar Player, but which give the record the feel of a garage-band workout that’s forever on the verge of breaking into something grander and more inspired.     

Yeah, one of the songs is about Neil’s electric car. Many of the songs are about cars or travel in various vehicles. You can deal with it. Aside from sex, I doubt there’s a more appropriate rock and roll subject than cars and driving. This disc is going to be great leadfooting music for drives to the beach. It’s that kind of fun. 

It’s also kind of pissed off, as in “There’s a bailout coming, but it’s not for me/ It’s for all those creeps watching tickers on TV . . . There’s a bailout coming but it’s not for you/ It’s for all those creeps hiding what they do.” Some of the reviewers have referred to the songs as “cranky.” They’re not cranky, they’re angry. Big difference. Especially when there’s so much to be angry about. “Keep on blogging ’til the power goes out,” Neil sings on the title track. Is Neil Young a blogging rocker or a rocking blogger? I’m happy with it either way.  

And the songs aren’t all angry. Toward the end of all this clamor, Neil drops in “Light a Candle,” a folk melody that’s going to be a staple of coffeehouses for years to come. And throughout the disc, there’s a good leavening of rueful humor:

I’m a big rock star.
My sales have tanked,
But I still got you.

Right now I’m thinking of Fork in the Road as a solid second-tier Neil disc, like Ragged Glory or Freedom, but it wouldn’t surprise me if by this time next year it’s crept into the upper ranks. Neil Young records have a way of doing that.

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‘People my age, they don’t do the things I do . . .’

Neil Young’s got a new song out, “Fork in the Road.” Follow the bouncing apple:

There’s a fork in the road ahead
I don’t which way I’m gonna turn
There’s a fork in the road ahead

About this year
We salute the troops
They’re all still there
In a fucking war
It’s no good
Whose idea was that?

I’ve got hope
But you can’t eat hope
I’m not done
Not giving up
Not cashing in
Too late

There’s a bailout coming but it’s not for me
It’s for all those creeps watching tickers on TV
There’s a bailout coming but it’s not for me

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Friday finds

Before we get started, how about a little Bach on the Swedish keyed fiddle? The nyckelharpa has 16 strings, but you only play four of them. The rest are there to resonate with the bowed strings, the way a Norwegian hardanger fiddle has a set of sympathetic strings under the bridge that resonate along with the playing. I love both instruments, and I can’t go too long without wanting to listen to them.

agrippa-coverBoingBoing has posted a video that allows you to read and re-read “Agrippa (a book of the dead),” the 1992 self-destructing art-book created by writer William Gibson, artist Dennis Ashbaugh and publisher Kevin Begos Jr. Gibson’s poem, inspired by the death of his father, showcases some of his most evocative writing, and the several editions of the poem play on the themes of memory and loss by causing the text to decay and eventually vanish with use and the passage of time. The idea was to leave the reader with nothing his memories of the poem (and the money he shelled out) but naturally the code was hacked almost as soon as the book became available. And while we’re on the subject of William Gibson, how long before a company called Ono-Sendai materializes and starts selling these? Maybe Errol Morris will use it to replace his Interrotron.

Maybe it’s time to pay a visit to the town Neil Young created. And maybe it’s time for a little more nyckelharpa music:

Scary times for writers, especially free-lancers. This free-lancer’s motto is “no fear.”

The Art of the Title Sequence is film geekery at its finest. The site gives you the chance to appreciate and hear commentary on some of the most effective and artful examples of films that use their title sequences to establish the mood and set the stage for what follows. One of my favorite examples, the travels of a bullet from factory to victim at the start of Lord of War, is here along with John Carpenter’s original Halloween and its obvious precursor, Quatermass and the Pit.

The sound is like a glass of cold, pure water.

I don’t know which fact is more astonishing: that George Lucas actually solicited A-list British playwright David Hare (Plenty, The Blue Room, A Map of the World) to direct The Phantom Menace, or that Triple-A-List playwright Tom Stoppard (Arcadia, Shakespeare in Love, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead)did some script-doctor work on the tedious screenplay for Revenge of the Sith. Most astonishing of all, I guess, is that Lucas went for this kind of help when, as this blogger points out, all he needed was someone with competence and cleverness of the sort Irvin Kershner (and Leigh Brackett) brought to The Empire Strikes Back.

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