Friday, January 27, 2006

The 1st Neil Young Album I Remember Being New

I remember when AMERICAN STARS 'N BARS (1977) was new. I was seven years old, and riding in the back seat of my dad's car with "Like a Hurricane" blaring through the speakers. My dad didn't have the album, mind you. It was just the local FM radio station of choice (and they've long since changed formats anyway). In any event, what a classic song...

Side I
was recorded in April 1977, and is credited to "Neil Young, Crazy Horse & The Bullets": Neil on Vocals, Acoustic Guitar & Electric Guitar; Nicolette Larson & Linda Ronstadt on Vocals; Carole Mayedo on Violin; Ben Keith on Steel Guitar; Frank Sampedro on Acoustic Guitar & Electric Guitar; Billy Talbot on Bass; Ralph Molina on Drums.

The first four songs are country fare. "The Old Country Waltz" sounds and feels like old country (not sure about the "Waltz" part). "Saddle Up the Palomino", which Neil co-wrote with Tim Drummond and Bobby Charles, has a bit more of a rock edge. But, it's still country, with a story line about "sleeping with another man's wife". "Hey Babe" is as country as country gets, and damn if Neil doesn't sound great doing it ("I know that all things pass/Let's try to make this last"). "Hold Back the Tears" is a bit twangy for my tastes, but certainly not a bad song. "Bite the Bullet" closes out the side with a rocker that kicks some ass.

Side II is credited to "Neil Young & Crazy Horse", and is a collection of previously unreleased Neil compostions, recorded at various times. "Star of Bethlehem" (Nov.'74) is a country tune featuring Neil on Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica & Vocals; Emmylou Harris on Vocals; Ben Keith on Dobro & Vocals; Tim Drummond on Bass; Karl Himmel on Drums. Mellow and sweet. "Will to Love" (May'76) is a 100% Neil solo effort, and seems to anticipate future songs like "Pocahontas" and "Ride My Llama", though this one is longer and slower. "Like a Hurricane" (Nov'75) is Neil, Frank, Billy & Ralph jamming for 8+ minutes of guitar-twisting glory. It just doesn't get much better than this ("That perfect feeling/When time just slips"). "Homegrown" (Nov'75) is the same line-up as "Hurricane", and ends the album on an upbeat, chunky note, with a wink and a smile.

Bottom-line: It's a keeper. "Like a Hurricane" endures as a true rock classic. Only Neil would have that song "in the can" for almost 2 years before releasing it! There are some other really good songs to discover here as well.


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