LP Review: Neil Young & The Stray Gators’ Live ‘Tuscaloosa’ From the Archives

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Neil Young has once again opened his vaunted Archives and released a live album, Tuscaloosa, from a show in Alabama on February 5, 1973. Say what you want about Neil Young, but to go down to Alabama and sing the song “Alabama” with lyrics like, “Make friends down in Alabama/I’m from a new land/I come to you/And see all this ruin/What are you doing Alabama,” you have to admit he’s got some church-bell sized balls. I’m surprised he didn’t double down and play “Southern Man,” his other scathing indictment of the south. “Alabama” and “Southern Man” were the tracks that inspired southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd to write the response, “Sweet Home Alabama.” You have to remember in Alabama in 1973, other than the use of automobiles, it was still 1866. It’s a wonder Young made it out of the state alive.

Neil Young’s “archive game” is amongst the best. Only perhaps Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen have released more archival music than Neil Young has. I can only hope Prince and Tom Petty follow the path blazed by those guys. Of course Petty’s extended, double-album version of Wildflowers has been held up indefinitely by a lawsuit between his daughters and his second wife. Even Prince’s screwed up legal situation pales in comparison to that stuff going on, but I digress. If you haven’t, you should really check out neilyoungarchives.com. There is a subscription fee, if you’re really into Neil, but there is also some free content. You can pretty much find everything he’s done out there.

The 1973 tour was in support of Neil’s biggest album yet, his commercial breakthrough, Harvest. The hit from that album “Heart of Gold,” made Neil Young the most improbable of superstars. It’s pretty clear how uncomfortable he was in that kind of bright spotlight. When he introduces “Heart of Gold” on this album, he mentions that he turned down the offer to let it be used in a commercial. He says he and the band were going to re name the song, “Burger of Gold.” It draws a laugh from the crowd, but you can tell Neil is bothered.

The Harvest tour was fraught with problems. During rehearsals for the tour Neil had to fire his old friend, guitarist Danny Whitten (the leader of Crazy Horse) because he was so messed up on drugs and booze. The night after he was fired, Whitten was found dead of mixing booze and valium (aka diazapem). Neil felt a crushing amount of guilt. To make matters worse, his backing band, the Stray Gators – Kenny Buttrey on drums, Tim Drummond on bass, Ben Keith on pedal steel and slide guitar, and Jack Nitzsche on piano – were all session players instead of musicians Neil knew (well, he knew Nitzsche). Buttrey demanded the then-unheard of sum of $100,000 to play on the tour, to make up for lost studio session money and the rest of the band soon stuck their hand out. Neil said yes to the demand but it pissed him off royally. Anger on top of guilt made for an explosive combination. All of that added to his discomfort with being a superstar made for a less than ideal atmosphere. Then someone turned  him onto tequila, which he drank copiously on the tour. They knew which drug to legalize when they ok’d tequila. When I drink tequila, and I never drink tequila, I’m either going to fight you or try to fuck you and many times, both at the same time. Stick with bourbon, it’s safer.

The legend goes that the crowds who showed up to see Neil on the Harvest tour, expecting an evening of acoustic strumming and hits were surprised and horrified by the raucous and loud playing of the Stray Gators. Neil didn’t make it any easier for them by choosing to play a bunch of new, unheard-of-at-that-time songs as he had decided to record this whole train wreck. It was his goal to cut his next album live on this tour and to take a stylistic left turn, to get out of the middle road where he’d found himself and head into “the ditch.” As I listened to Tuscaloosa, the first two-thirds is just what the crowd expected – acoustic tracks, played faithfully. It’s only that last bit where the Stray Gators turn it up to 11 and play a bunch of unheard, new tracks. I have to imagine the crowds were at least initially happy with their evening but then it took an odd turn.

The shows on that tour usually started off with Neil doing an acoustic set, which he’s often done since. He comes out with an acoustic guitar and plays “Here We Are In the Years” from his first album. Then he sits down at the piano and plays “After The Gold Rush.” I have to think, at roughly 45 minutes long, this album is a truncated version of the concert. I’ve read he left a couple of songs from this concert off the record, just because he’s Neil Young, and the rest of the show wasn’t even taped. Neil is nothing if not mercurial.

Overall I’d tell you I really like this record. If you compare it to his last archival live release, Tonights The Night Live, (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live’) they are vastly different. There is a dark mood that hangs over this concert album. The tensions with the band are palpable, if just under the surface. It’s clear on Tonights The Night Live, where he’s backed by his pals in Crazy Horse, he’s happier and having a lot more fun. The staggering thing is that album was recorded only 7 months after this album in TuscaloosaOne might describe this album as a tad brooding.

The middle of this record, after Neil plays his brief 2-song solo set, is really brilliant. The Stray Gators come out and play one of my all time favorite Neil Young deep tracks, “Out On The Weekend” and it’s just stellar. I’d never heard it played live before and they nail it. Ben Keith on pedal steel really shines on this part of the set. During the lead into the song “Harvest,” Neil introduces the band with all the warmth of a “Dear John” letter. “Harvest,” “Old Man,” and the big hit “Heart of Gold” are all played well and the crowd seems to really enjoy that part of the set.

And then, like someone flipping a light switch the band blasts into “Time Fades Away.” That songs first lyrics are amongst my favorite Neil Young lyrics, “Fourteen junkies, too weak to work…” The guitar solo from Neil during “Time Fades Away” is monumental. I have to wonder why he didn’t use this version on the album of the same name. The Gators continue jamming on a host of newly written stuff that probably did baffle the crowd, but still sound great here. It was an awesome night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “Look Out Joe” which Neil dedicates to returning Vietnam vets, “New Mama,” and the final track, “Don’t Be Denied” would all end up coming out later on either Time Fades Away or Tonights The Night. The versions here are great if not a tad shambolic. I like my rock and roll messy and Neil and the Stray Gators certainly deliver. The only track that the crowd would have known during this electric part of the set is “Alabama,” which again, what balls Neil had to play that song deep, deep into that southern state.

I do love that Neil introduces “Don’t Be Denied,” one of his most autobiographical, vulnerable songs as being about “an aspiring folk singer…” By this point in his career, Neil was a little past aspiring. This concert album is an interesting look at a pivotal and fascinating part of Neil Young’s career. Eventually tensions between Neil and the Stray Gators would lead him to fire Buttrey and bring in Johnny Barbata to play drums. He also brought in Graham Nash and David Crosby to do backing vocals… he must have needed some friendly faces. That line up is the one that ended up on the follow-up album, (the first of the legendary “Ditch Trilogy”), Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP).

Check this album out and be sure to check out the Neil Young Archives. Fair warning: you can get lost in there…

Cheers!

Review: Neil Young’s ‘Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live’

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Heart of Gold – This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.” – Neil Young, from the liner notes of his superb greatest hits LP, Decade.

I’d like to tell you that I was born with a fully formed musical identity. Sadly, that’s not true. Everybody’s taste in music changes and evolves, especially if you’re a music spelunker like us here at B&V. I remember reading a long time ago that whatever you’re listening to in junior high school/high school is likely the music you’ll listen to the rest of your life. Thank God some kick ass music came out in the 70s/early 80s. For me, a lot of my musical gestation took place in college. I was lucky my freshman year to meet one of my future roommates, Drew. Drew helped shape my musical tastes as much as anybody I can think of, give credit to or perhaps better said, blame.

I was a basic Stones/Springsteen fan and Drew was a Who/Billy Joel fan. Clearly we each had something to teach each other. The countless hours we spent together in our college town’s lone record store are amongst some of my most cherished memories from that time. I learned a hell of a lot from Drew back then. There was also a girlfriend in there who was a lot of fun who I learned a lot from too, but I’m married now and those records are sealed. One of the key artists that Drew turned me onto, that he knew extensively but was a blindspot for me was Neil Young. I don’t know why I’d never listened to Neil. “Heart of Gold” was about the only tune I knew and I thought it was ok. I thought of him as being like the Eagles, sort of country rock… little did I know. I hope I wasn’t one of those “I don’t like his vocals” people. I already loved Bob Dylan by that time, so I don’t think that was it. Young doesn’t sing like Steve Perry, but the emotion and passion he puts into his vocals are incredibly moving. His songwriting can be dream-like, bizarre, spot-on and deeply affecting all at the same time.

By the time Drew turned me onto Neil Young, Neil had so much music out there, I thought I’d never catch up. I didn’t have that kind of bankroll. So I did what I often did as a poor student, I bought his greatest hits album, Decade. Decade was a bit of a landmark “greatest hits” package. It was a full three albums long, which was a hefty price tag. I used to blanch at the thought of buying double albums, let alone triple albums. It also encapsulated Neil’s entire career from 1966 to 1976 (hence, the name) – there were tracks from the Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, solo and a track from the Stills/Young Band. There were hits but there were also deep cuts and a few songs he’d never released before. I suspect it may have been the model that Bob Dylan’s box set Biograph  was built on. It was truly a superb package and a great place to start your Neil Young collection. Although Neil’s Archive, Vol 1 box set probably supersedes it now. In the liner notes, quoted above, Neil mentioned taking his career “into the ditch” where he met “more interesting people.” And with that one line, hand written in the liner notes of a greatest hits package, Neil was able to actually provide a name to a trio of albums that make up the period of his career from 1973 to 1974 that have henceforth been known as, The Ditch Trilogy.

The Ditch Trilogy consists of three of my all time favorite Neil Young albums: Time Fades Away (1973), On The Beach (1974) and Tonight’s The Night (1975). Tonight’s the Night was actually recorded after Time Fades Away and before On The Beach but the record company sat on the record for two years. They didn’t want to release it because they thought it was too bleak. Neil has cited Time Fades Away as his least favorite record and for years it was out of print. I couldn’t find it anywhere… the only person I knew who owned it was, yes… wait for it… my old roommate Drew. Finally it was released last year (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP). Now that I’ve heard all three of the Ditch Trilogy albums, its my opinion, if you’re going to spend an afternoon listening to all three with a nice sour mash – and everybody should – you should listen to the records in the order they were recorded vs the order they were released (i.e, Time Fades, Tonight’s The Night, Beach). The albums make more sense that way.

To truly understand the Ditch Trilogy, one needs to look at Neil’s career up to that point to give it some context. 1970 was a huge year for Neil Young. He’d joined CSNY and they released Deja Vu. In the same year Neil had released the album that made him a star, After the Gold Rush. The CSNY momentum continued with the amazing live album, 4-Way Street (1971). I can still remember walking through the living room at my college place and hearing Drew listening to 4-Way Street… the music at that place was always kick ass thanks to Drew, but I digress. By 1972 there was a lot of pent-up demand for another Neil solo record. He delivered the biggest selling album of 1972, his masterpiece, Harvest. Suddenly Young was a superstar and he did not handle it well but who does? (Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame) The hit song “Heart of Gold” was enormous. It was so big it pissed Bob Dylan off… he thought it was actually one of his songs when he first heard it. He thought he’d been ripped off… Supposedly his response was “Forever Young” a hidden jab at Neil. Who knows if that’s true or not…

To support Harvest, Young convened a group of session musicians in New York to prep for a tour. The pressure on Young was immense. The musicians all demanded $100,000 each for the tour, an unheard of sum back then, which supremely pissed Young off. He was touring on the pastoral, mellow grooves of Harvest with an openly hostile relationship with his backing band. To help balance things, he invited his friend from Crazy Horse, guitarist Danny Whitten to join the tour as rhythm guitarist. Unfortunately Whitten’s substance abuse problems, booze and heroin got in the way. Neil was quoted as saying, “he just couldn’t cut it. He couldn’t remember any of the songs.” So Neil did what he had to do, the show must go on. He fired Whitten. I had always heard he’d given Whitten $50 and a plane ticket back to L.A. and that Whitten had OD’d on $50 worth of heroin. Actually, he’d mixed booze and valium into a lethal combo. Literally, this happened the night after Neil Young had fired him. Now added to the pressure of having the biggest record in the world and a hostile band environment was an enormous sense of guilt. I don’t know how Young continued on tour. Oh, yes perhaps I do… he discovered and started drinking tequila. I try to avoid tequila… I used to say, they knew which drug to legalize, tequila. If I drink that stuff I’m either going to fight you or try to fuck you… maybe both at the same time… but enough about me.

To add to all of this mayhem, Neil brought along a mobile recording studio to capture it all on tape. Instead of a folky, country-rock evening the fans were expecting they got the electric Neil. Blaring, blasting guitars like it was an armed assault instead of a concert. To add to that, he performed a bunch of newly written songs that nobody had heard. It’s tough to attend a concert when you don’t recognize the music. When you know and are familiar with the songs, it multiplies the enjoyment exponentially. God knows what the audiences thought, but the resulting album, Time Fades Away is brilliant. After the tour, one of his roadies (and CSNY’s roadie) Bruce Berry succumbed to drugs and OD’d on a lethal mix of cocaine and heroin. Man, what a shitty year.

After the tour, Neil holed up in his studio with a band he dubbed the Santa Monica Flyers which consisted of Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums) both from Crazy Horse, Nils Lofgren on guitar (and in a surprise move, Neil had him play piano, an instrument he had previously never played) and Ben Keith on pedal steel guitar. As mentioned above, the album was pretty grim. Its basically the recording of a man exorcising his demons. It’s not often that an artist can lay himself and his emotions so nakedly bare in front of the world. I can only compare it to John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. The two versions of the title track which bookend the album both reference the late Bruce Berry who “was a working man, he used to drive that Econoline van…” The performances are ragged and messy. They all sound like a first take, where the band is just watching Neil and trying to follow along. And I will say, it’s a very druggy album. There are a lot of drug references and Neil sounds fucked up half the time. There may be no hits on this record, but there’s not a Young fan who doesn’t consider it a masterpiece.

Last week Young released another superb entry in his wonderful Vault Series. Apparently, even though the record company refused to release Tonight’s The Night Young decided to play some live dates at the Roxy in Los Angeles in September of 1974 and play the unreleased album. And, as usual, he recorded the concerts resulting in this great live, vault release, Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live. While the performance still starts and ends with the song “Tonight’s the Night” he doesn’t just play the album in it’s running order. He also omits a couple of songs, the Danny Whitten sung “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” and “Borrowed Time.” He also adds as an encore, “Walk On,” that Neil introduces as an old song, despite the fact that it wouldn’t be released until a year later on On The Beach.

I might be slightly overstating this when I say this was a bit of a bracing listen. I don’t mean that in a bad way… it’s just a surprise. I’ve heard the original LP so many times, it’s etched in my mind, it’s part of the canon. So to hear Neil get up and be joking on stage – he starts by saying the first topless woman to jump on stage wins a prize of some sort… it was the 70s, way before Me Too, so let’s not get upset – is kind of shocking. In terms of the music, it’s played with more precision than on the original album. Obviously the band was much more familiar with the music by the time of these performances and everybody plays at a high level. The cloud of grief that hangs over Tonight’s The Night seems to dissipate here quite a bit, not that this is joyful music. “Roll Another Number (For The Road) swings so much it sounds like something Hank Williams might have done. The songs are still tough and gritty, but Neil is engaged and seems to be enjoying playing them. I love the way he bears down on his guitar when starts playing the title track to begin the show. Everybody plays so well here. I wonder how the crowd remains as enthusiastic as they do since no one in the room, who isn’t on stage, knew the material.

For me, and I admit, I’m a completist (guilty as charged), this is an essential companion piece to Tonight’s The Night. The lighthearted manner in which Young plays these tunes is evidence that the grief he was feeling was slowly lifting. I think this live album is a key link between Tonight’s and the follow up, On The Beach. I actually went out and listened to this on Neil’s archive web page, which I highly recommend to anybody, neilyoungarchives.com which is free for now. I will warn you… if you’re a Neil fan, you can get lost in there. I pulled it up one Friday in February and the next thing I knew it was Monday… At the very least everyone should go out to the Archive website and listen to this phenomenal historical document. Tonight’s the Night really comes alive in this performance… and don’t forget to put on the entire Ditch Trilogy with a nice tumbler of sour mash… you can thank me later.

 

LP Review: Neil Young’s Album From His Vault, ‘Hitchhiker’

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“You ready Briggs?” – Neil Young to producer David Briggs, August 11, 1976, Malibu

It would be easy to look at the track listing of ‘Hitchhiker’ and be confused. “Wait a minute, I’ve seen all of these tracks before…is this a greatest hits album?”…I can almost hear you say. And yes, eventually most of these tracks came out on other albums… But on a magical night, August 11th, 1976 Neil Young entered a studio in Malibu with producer David Briggs and cut all 10 of these tracks. He and Briggs had made a habit of going into the studio, on nights with a full moon and cutting music. According to Wikipedia, Neil wouldn’t have anything prepared, he’d just sit down with an acoustic guitar and harmonica and say, “Time to turn on the tap…” Purportedly, he’d only pause in recording the songs that night to take breaks for “weed, beer or coke.” If that’s how Neil turns on the “genius” tap, I think we need to get a friendly beer distributor to send a loaded beer truck over to Neil’s… maybe pick up a dealer or two on the way… I’m not condoning anything, just saying though…

Neil Young is one of those rare artists, like Dylan, Springsteen and yes, Prince who can go into a studio and cut a full album’s worth of material and then, strangely, shelve it. There are songs that appear on 1989’s ‘Freedom’ that were originally written and laid down in the mid-70s. I was always baffled when I heard bootlegs, as to why Neil wouldn’t have put out these songs/albums that he’d cut when he recorded them. What was he thinking? I’d ask myself. In the case of the all-night session for ‘Hitchhiker’ he submitted the results to his record company and they rejected the album as sounding too much like a demo. Re-record this stuff with a band they said… If we need any proof record company guys don’t get art, just listen to this album. This album would have been a great appendix to his “Ditch Trilogy” and would have been better than the ‘Stills/Young’ album he actually put out in 1976.

I’ve heard a lot of bootleg, demo type stuff. One needs only to turn to Bob Dylan’s box set ‘The Cutting Edge’ to hear an artist cutting demos and shaping songs. Typically you get a lot of studio chatter… ‘Hitchhiker”s songs sounds like a complete set of songs. There’s no start/stop moments here. These songs don’t feel like demos. These are fully realized songs. Give credit to the only other person in the studio that night, producer David Briggs, for catching the immediacy and brilliance of these songs as they were being formed. Briggs literally captured Neil’s lightning in a bottle or, well, on tape. For the most part, these songs were eventually released in the form they were originally recorded in August of 76… proof these tunes don’t sound like demos. What’s great about ‘Hitchhiker’ is this album, from deep in Neil’s vault, gives us the chance to finally hear all of these songs as a set. This is the way to listen to these songs, as a complete piece, versus a track or two on scattered albums. That’s what makes this essential Young listening, instead of something for completists.

“Pocahontas,” a song so epic even Johnny Cash covered it during the American Recording period with Rick Rubin, kicks off this album. I’ve always thought it had dreamy, trippy lyrics… perhaps Neil’s consumption the evening it was recorded explains that feeling. It was eventually released on ‘Rust Never Sleeps.’ It’s the same track found here, although Neil overdubbed some weird squeaky sound-effects onto it, for reasons unclear, on it’s eventual ‘Rust’ release. I love the version here, stripped to the bone. Also from ‘Rust’ is “Ride My Llama,” basically as it appears on ‘Rust Never Sleeps.’ One of the revelations here is the original version of “Powderfinger,” here, acoustic. “Powderfinger” is one of my favorite tracks, not only from ‘Rust,’ but ever. The epic electric guitar on the ‘Rust’ version seems to imitate the violence that occurs in the lyrics, like Hendrix playing “Machine Gun.” Who are these men on “the white boat comin’ up the river,” and why are they armed. Are they revenuers coming to seize the still? Why is our 22 year old hero firing shots from “daddy’s rife” which felt “reassuring” in our hero’s hand? Supposedly, Neil Young offered the tune to Lynyrd Skynyrd before their fateful plane crash. I can’t imagine it getting any better than Neil’s version… Neil has always had two sides to his music – the epic electric, usually with Crazy Horse and the quiet acoustic of say, ‘Harvest.’ This version of the song encapsulates that dichotomy perfectly.

“Captain Kennedy” was another great tune, released eventually on ‘Hawks And Doves,’ in much the same version as here. “Campaigner,” the excellent track here was released on Neil’s epic greatest hits record, ‘Decade.’ “Even Richard Nixon has got soul…” Does he? “Human Highway” was also cut that August night in Malibu but not released until ‘Comes a Time.’ “Country Waltz” was released in a different form on ‘American Stars ‘N Bars,’ which by this point in the song list you have to wonder… why wasn’t this released in 1976. The craziest thing to me was the version of the title track, “Hitchhiker” was released in a weird version on ‘Le Noise’ the 2010 album produced by Daniel Lanois. I’ve always felt like ‘Le Noise’ was a missed opportunity… I’ve often referred to it as “Le Crap.” The version here is so far superior… Again, I wonder how this song took so long to see the light of day…

The song that is a real revelation to me was “Give Me Strength.” It, and “Hawaii” are the only tracks I don’t believe have ever seen release on a Neil Young album. “Give Me Strength” is an amazing track and frankly, worth the price of admission here. “Hawaii” is an OK track, and I can see perhaps why it was left in the can. It’s an album track, nothing revelatory.

Again, the fact that most of these tracks, 8 of 10, came out in some form or other over the years may make this album seem superfluous. But trust me, it’s not. This form, all acoustic, cut together as a piece, is the way to hear this record and to hear these songs. This is essential for any Neil Young fan. Pick this one up asap.

Chris Cornell, who toward the last part of his life was recording acoustic-based songs, and then returning to Soundgarden for loud rock n’ roll said he kind of got how Neil could go from loud rock to acoustic. It was great to have the option… This album is some of the best of Neil’s acoustic, quieter, non-Crazy Horse side. “Remember me to my love, I know I’ll miss her…” I hope he’ll pry open the vault for more of this! It’s truly a treasure.

Neil Young’s “Hitchhiker,” The Title Track From A Lost Album From His Archive

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“When I was a hitchhiker on the road, I had to count on you…” – Neil Young, “Hitchiker”

No one loves releases from an artist’s archives more than we here at BourbonAndVinyl. There are certain artists that have a treasure trove of unreleased material, recorded over the course of their career. Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young are probably the foremost artists that spring to mind in this category. It almost sounds like the Rock N’ Roll Archive Law Firm of Dylan, Young and Springsteen… Dylan started the whole archive craze with his Bootleg Series. Actually to be completely correct, he probably started it all prior to that with his brilliant box set, ‘Biograph,’ which combined hits, album cuts, live cuts and unreleased material to tell the story of his career. ‘Biograph’ seemingly launched the box set business and showed record companies there is a strong market for these “vault” releases. I published a guide to Dylan’s Bootleg Series previously, ( Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide ).

Springsteen has released the box set, ‘Tracks,’ to clear out a small fraction of his unreleased studio stuff. Bruce also continues to release quality-sound live concert recordings ranging from ’74 to ’16 and just released the first ever soundboard from his 1977 tour… Don’t tell my wife, but that review will be coming soon. You could go bankrupt buying those old Springsteen concerts and she doesn’t need to know how much I’m spending… Speaking of concert recordings, The Grateful Dead, who have a long, storied bootleg history, have been releasing live concerts “from the vaults” even longer than Springsteen has, and deserve at least a mention here. However, I just can’t get into the Dead… that endless noodling drives me nuts, but if you’re into them, we don’t judge here at B&V. In my opinion, if you want jam band stuff, try Gov’t Mule or The Allman Brothers.

Neil Young got into the “vault” releases in a big, big way with his box set, ‘Archives Vol. 1,(1963-1972)’ released in 2009 which grew out of what was to be ‘Decade 2’ the follow up to the spectacular 1977 greatest hits package ‘Decade.’ As with anything Neil Young, he went way overboard and ‘Archives 1’ ended up being eight discs long, with interactive Blu-Ray versions and fabulous sound quality. No wonder it took almost 30 years to complete. While there were unreleased versions of songs, ‘Archives 1’ relied heavily on previously released material from his albums of the period. I didn’t purchase it, because I already had most of those albums excerpted from that time period. There were a number of live, concert albums contained in the box, that were released separately as stand-alone LPs. I bought ‘Live At The Fillmore East’ which was with the original Crazy Horse (Danny Whitten!), although it was only the electric half of that concert. I also purchased, from ‘Archives Vol 1,’ the ‘Massey Hall’ show and ‘Sugar Mountain: Live At The Canterbury House 1968,’ which were all acoustic performances. Neil is that rare artist that has two sides – roaring, rocking, electric distortion (usually with Crazy Horse) and quiet, sometimes spacey, acoustic songs. Often he performs both at shows, in different sets.

After ‘Archives Vol 1’ came out, we vault enthusiasts had to keep waiting as ‘Vol 2’ kept getting delayed. Now I’m hearing Neil is going to stream all of his material online… We’ll have to wait and see. While I’ve been waiting for ‘Vol 2’ to come out, I was happy to see a few years ago, Neil release ‘Live At the Bluenote Cafe’ from his ‘This Notes For You’ tour. That live album was reviewed on B&V and I still love listening to it, but I love the blues. ( Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live) ). One of the things that had me most looking forward to ‘Vol 2’ was the rumor that it would include a number of Neil’s “lost” albums. Neil is one of those rare artists who would go into the studio, cut a whole album worth of material and then pull it back and put it on the shelf. Prince was notorious for this as well.

There are several of these “lost” albums that I’ve heard of, and probably lots more in existence. ‘Chrome Dreams’ is one of the few studio bootlegs I have of Neil. There is purportedly an album from the late 90s/early 00s that Neil cut with Crazy Horse in San Francisco, in a studio famously used by John Coltrane, named ‘Toast.’ Another one I’ve heard of, but not a whole lot, was the all acoustic LP Neil shelved in 1976, ‘Hitchhiker.’ I was shocked the other day, when I saw it pop up on iTunes. Rather than wait until September 8th, the release date, I immediately ordered the single song available, the title track.

The ‘Hitchhiker’ LP was recorded in one long night, August 11, 1976, with just Neil Young on acoustic guitar and David Briggs, his friend/producer in a Malibu studio. Neil only took breaks as he labored all night for “beer, weed or cocaine.” Sounds like hazardous working conditions. Many of the songs on the track list are songs that have popped up on other albums (‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ ‘Comes A Time’) over the years. Some of these tunes were even on ‘Chrome Dreams’ which makes me wonder if that was merely a compilation of earlier tracks like say, ‘Freedom’ vs a newly cut album that didn’t get released.

I’ve listened to the title track “Hitchhiker” from this album almost non stop since yesterday. When I heard this was just Neil playing acoustic guitar, I thought the song would come off sounding like a demo. I was wrong, this is a fully realized song. It would be at home on side one of ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ or either side of ‘Comes A Time.’ It’s a hypnotic, tone poem of a song. There are so many levels to the autobiographical lyrics. On the surface it’s the story of Neil hitchhiking from Toronto to Los Angeles. However, I think it could be also read as his journey from obscurity to superstardom. He also, very honestly, chronicles his journey from hash to amphetamines to weed. He even gets valium, but he “still couldn’t close my eyes.” Sound-wise this song reminds me of “The Needle And the Damage Done.” I know he later released this song on the Daniel Lanois produced ‘Le Noise’ but this is the definitive version of this song.

If you’re a fan of Neil’s acoustic side, this is a must have. I can only hope this will bring more vault releases of Neil’s “lost studio albums” in the future. I’ll definitely have more about this when the album comes out, but for now, turn this on and ride the highway with Neil…

Cheers!