In the early 00’s Neil Young headed into Toast Studios in San Francisco, CA and cut 7 songs with his most famous – and best – backing band, Crazy Horse. The songs were bluesy and lyrically showed Neil dealing with some heavy issues within his marriage. For reasons only known to Neil, he scrapped the album and released 2002’s inferior Are You Passionate? Neil Young 1st started talking up the unreleased album in 2008. Release has been imminent for over a decade, but Neil Young fans have learned that Neil operates in his own universe. That “imminent” date is now here, 14 years or so after it was first mentioned. Reviews so far have been mixed, but for me it is a perfect Neil Young album. 7 blistering songs of heartache and longing given to us in a way that only Neil Young can do.
The 10’s proved to be a busy time for Neil Young. Starting off the decade with one of his strongest records – 2010’s Le Noise – it ends with another strong record, the recently released Crazy Horse reunion, Colorado. Although the new record marks the first Crazy Horse album in 7 years, Neil Young has released 9 studio albums in the last decade. That’s averaging a new studio release every 13 months, for those of you keeping tracking at home. There were moments over the last few years where people openly wondered if we were in an era comparable to Young’s wilderness period of the 80’s – such was the off the cuff, immediate quality of the records being released. For every Le Noise or Psychedelic Pill we also had Storytone or Peace Trail. In the midst of this, Neil also found time to form a new band with Promise of the Real – thus far, this has resulted in two albums that have multiple moments of inspiration mixed in with some lesser tunes. For me, there is always at least one classic Neil Young song on every album, and I’ve been pretty happy with the output over the last decade. I was excited when Colorado was announced – a reunion with the original grunge band, Crazy Horse. That feeling hasn’t gone away after repeated listens – in fact, this is arguably the strongest Neil Young album of the decade.
Like clockwork, about 18 months after the last Neil Young album arrives the new one, A Letter Home. Early rumors had pegged this one as a duets record with Jack White, but those proved to be unfounded. Jack White IS involved – he duets with Neil Young on two tracks and the record is out on White’s Third Man Records. Recalling Young’s experimental 80’s phase, this record comes with its own idiosyncracies – an album recorded entirely in a refurbished Voice-O-Graph box dating from 1947. The Voice-O-Graph (as shown on the album cover) is reminiscent of a telephone booth with barely enough room to accommodate Neil Young and his guitar. The standard edition is a direct to vinyl recording, warm crackles & pops present on the vinyl, CD, and download versions. The deluxe box set features an audiophile edition – just Neil and his guitar in glorious mono. You’d think this might come off as gimmicky – but it doesn’t. In fact, it is the 4th Neil Young record in a row that is an above average effort.
In Washington State the Autumnal rainy season strikes almost immediately, summer becoming a distant memory overnight. The summer just passed becomes a topic approached in waves of nostalgia as kids bury their noses in homework and the big people go about their big people business. Those busy Fall days need a perfect soundtrack, and I usually reach for a Neil Young inspired, folk tinged kind of record. Last year my soundtrack was a mix of Neil Young himself, Honeychurch, Heyward Howkins, and Neil Halstead. This year I’ve been reaching for the debut EP from Dan Florio.
I have to be honest – I’ve always had a weak spot for female acoustic folk type music. I think it began in the early 90’s with the release of the first Jewel record, Pieces of You. I bought the CD well before any of the songs were played on the radio (what a hipster thing to say) and fell in love with almost 3/4 of the record. So began my pursuit of following female artists that followed that mold – folk based with insanely catchy melodies and lyrics that resonate. To be honest, this is a hard position to straddle – what works for some artists can easily come off as boring music paired with bad poetry (no names, it is all in the eye of the beholder). Amy Hill hails from Brighton, England and her debut album, Place of Mind, is an album that recalls early Jewel while retaining its own unique charm.