*Image taken from the internet and likely copyrighted…
I can’t really say that I benefited from the whole “lockdown” thing. I thought perhaps it would be a chance for me to get into some kind of physical shape. I could take the time off the road, a small break in my itinerant professional life and I don’t know, start jogging. Maybe I’d lift weights for that super toned and “cut” body. There were plenty of projects I could have taken on. Perhaps I could have gone all arts and crafts-y with a nice scrap-booking project. I could have, for once and for all, conquered my insomnia. I might have taken up juggling, archery or fencing. Maybe I could have finally put in that sewing room for the Rock Chick… although she doesn’t sew and has no interest in the textile arts. Sadly, none of that really happened for me. I ended up just sitting around the house drinking whiskey and listening to rock n roll. I’ll certainly never describe that time the way Mellencamp (with Springsteen) sang recently as “Wasted Days.” There’s nothing wrong with listening to rock n roll.
One guy who seems to have put his lockdown time to good use is Neil Young. Man, that guy has been busy. I recommend everybody check out his Archive site, https://neilyoungarchives.com/, the guy is putting out all kinds of music over there. It’s a wonderfully curated look at Neil’s entire career. He’s put out a number of great live albums recently both solo acoustic and with his once and future backing band, Crazy Horse. He was finally able to sit down and concentrate on finishing the epic, 10-disc Archives Vol. 2. I was delighted to finally get my hands on that. Truly a highlight of the year. While it took him eleven years between Archives Vol 1 and Archives Vol 2 he’s saying on his website that he was able to focus during the lockdown and will actually be releasing Archives Vol 3 in 2022. Neil has promised releases in the past, so we’ll all have to wait and see…
More exciting perhaps (for me) is that Neil announced a while back that he was releasing an LP of new material this year. Due in December this year, the new album Barn once again sees Neil teaming with Crazy Horse. As I’ve mentioned in these pages before, like Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, Derek & the Dominos), Young has played in a lot of different bands. I had forgotten that one of his earliest bands was the Mynah Birds with Rick James on lead vocals. They played Motown style stuff. I had known about that but had forgotten it completely until I saw the recent Rick James documentary. Strange bedfellows indeed… Neil of course went on to play with Stephen Stills in both the Buffalo Springfield and CSN (Y). He then began his solo career with a number of different backing bands: Crazy Horse, The Stray Gators, and the Bluenotes to name but a few.
Crazy Horse has always been my favorite of Neil Young’s bands. As Neil himself has said, “I just play better guitar with Crazy Horse.” Crazy Horse actually began as a band named The Rockets until Young stole most of the band away and dubbed them with the new Crazy Horse moniker. They were: Ralph Molina on drums, Billy Talbot on bass and Danny Whitten on guitar. Sadly Whitten passed away from mixing valium and booze… Whitten was eventually replaced by Frank “Poncho” Sampedro on guitar. Jack Nitzsche played piano with them for a while and guitar virtuoso Nils Lofgren has been in and out of Crazy Horse over the years. I’m not sure Young has ever had a guitar foil quite like Sampedro. Poncho would lock down the rhythm and Neil would play some of the most soaring solos. Sadly, a few years back Sampedro announced his retirement.
Over the last 8 or 9 years Neil had released a number of middling albums. I just couldn’t connect with them. Really, Psychedelic Pill with Crazy Horse in 2012 was the last LP that actually caught my attention. As has been pointed out by a few of my readers, that album could have probably benefited from some editing by Neil’s late producer David Briggs… Although I dug the 27 minute opening track… In 2019 Young surprised me by pulling Crazy Horse back together to record Colorado. In even better news, Nils Lofgren who had been playing with the E Street Band for many years was going to join Crazy Horse again to replace the retired Sampedro. I thought that was going to be even more of a guitar freak out… but it turns out Nils actually provided more musical structure than guitar foil. Colorado, to me, seemed to be a great little meditation on the environment. It wasn’t a great Crazy Horse album like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere but it was certainly a really good one.
I was delighted to see that Neil’s upcoming record Barn turned out to be another Crazy Horse LP. Neil is such a musical nomad he rarely uses the same band twice. Once again he’s backed by his old pals Molina, Talbot and Lofgren. The new song is called “Song of the Seasons.” Much like on Colorado, Nils isn’t playing guitar on this track, he’s playing… of all things… an accordion. I told the Rock Chick – who it must be noted is neither a Neil Young, Nils Lofgren, Springsteen or accordion fan – that Nils was playing accordion and not guitar and she said, “Nobody uses Nils the correct way Nils should be used,” nodding her head. I can’t lie, the accordion actually makes the track.
The track starts with some of Neil’s iconic harmonica work… it almost reminds me of the Young classic “Old Man.” Then the acoustic guitars start strumming and Nils’ accordion comes in. Neil’s voice sounds a little fragile. Like much of what Neil focuses on these days in terms of subject matter on “Song of the Seasons” his concern is the environment and Mother Nature. I dig the sentiment of the opening stanza, “Looking through a wavy glass window, In this old place by the lake, And the colors of the falling leaves I see nature makes no mistake.” It feels like autumn in this song, I almost feel I need a sweater. And yet, as with most things Neil it’s more complicated than all that. There’s a love story woven through the song… “Song of the seasons coming through me now, like the wind in your hair, we’re so together in the way that we feel we could end up anywhere.” I feel that way about the Rock Chick… He even has a nice word for the Queen and her late husband. It’s just this beautiful acoustic, down home mediation where Neil can see the whole world from his rustic front porch. The track lasts over six minutes but the melody is so addictive that you’ll think it was too short. I hear this and feel like there’s a fire in the fireplace and sawdust on the floor… maybe a few cold beers open on the table…
I really dig this tune, it pulled me out of my Beatles’ Let It Be Super Deluxe trance I’ve been in and I knew I needed to share. I’d love to hear one of those good ol’ guitar blasting epic tracks that Neil was known for with Crazy Horse. God knows, Nils is a great guitarist for him to play against. But I also love acoustic Neil. My favorite song from Colorado was the opening track, the acoustic strummer “Think of Me.” This track reminds me a little of that but that folksy accordion, with the acoustic guitar and harmonica just move this little lilting track along. It’s a great song and fills me with a lot of excitement for the upcoming Barn. It’s Neil Young. It’s Crazy Horse… with Nils. What could go wrong?