Monday, June 30, 2008

Check out 'Decade' for a great Neil Young sampler

Musically, Neil Young has always been a wandering spirit. From folk music to hard edge rock and roll to country to rockabilly, Young's catalogue has a little bit of everything. Saying his music is eclectic is a vast understatement. He has always been fearless when following his musical heart, and his album Decade is a fine example of that.

Taken all at once, this collection of his best from 1966-76 is quite breathtaking. Most "Best of..." albums are simply a collection of obvious songs slapped together for mass consumption. When comparing this compilation against the norm, it is all the more impressive. This album drips talent.

At this point of his career, Young was all over the place, and fortunately, this album captures each place he visited. Songs from his years in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young are here, as well as his solo work.

From his earliest work, the listener quickly learns that Young is unpredictable. Songs from his Buffalo Springfield period are a clear indicator of that. "Mr. Soul" is a forceful attack drenched in fuzzy guitar and aggressive vocals. "Broken Arrow," on the other hand, is more of a surreal collage in which diverse parts are woven together into an inventive whole. "I Am a Child" contains charm and innocence that perfectly reflects the song's title.

From his CSN&Y years, he communicates the despair of isolation on "Helpless." Other songs in this vain stand apart from the sweet harmonies for which the group was most known. "Ohio" features guitar work so jagged that it draws blood.

However, his solo work really elevates this album. His work with the back-up band Crazy Horse showcases his rock and roll chops. Songs like "Cinnamon Girl" and "Down by the River" deftly mix melancholia and power. So does "Cowgirl in the Sand," which Young said he wrote when he had a 103-degree fever.

Other songs include "The Needle and the Damage Done" and "Tonight's the Night," which tackle the subject of untimely death. In both songs, Young laments the deaths of friends from drug overdoses. His eulogies for both are moving while not condoning the behavior that caused their deaths.

Young had his greatest commercial success when he recorded the album Harvest in Nashville. Songs from that album make up an impressive chunk of this compilation. "Heart of Gold" hit the top of the charts and other songs like "Old Man" communicates a yearning that illustrates how people from different generations are connected by their heart's emotions.

Some critics have dismissed his songs from Harvest, calling them sentimental jingles instead of poetry. In this case, they miss the point big time. Just because an artist takes a more simplistic approach, it does not mean he compromises his artistic ambition.

Being a fan of Young is not a passive activity. He shuns the idea of formulaic record making, which means he quickly moves from one musical style to another. That can be frustrating if a person enjoys only one of his musical styles. The positive side of that is that he continually challenges the listener. And that is very rare these days.

4 comments:

Mister Jimmy said...

Neil's still got it. My favorite stuff of his is from Harvest and After the Gold Rush, also Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

Chris said...

I couple of years ago, Young played at Bonnaroo, but I didn't go. I regret that.

Joltin' Django said...

I'm not a big NY fan, but "Weld" is a great LP ... and "Cinnamon Girl" from that LP will really curl your toes, from a rock-n-roll standpoint, of course.

Speaking of "Cinnamon Girl," hit your favorite peer-to-peer network and download Bob Mould's "CG" cover. You will NOT be disappointed.

Chris said...

Young's performance of "Harvest Moon" on his "Unplugged" CD comes close to perfection.