Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Forget the dog, the monkey, etc. Every year is the Year of the Horse in my book

YEAR OF THE HORSE (1997) is a 2-Disc set that is a great addition to the Neil Young & Crazy Horse live album collection. The performances were recorded during the tour supporting the underappreciated album BROKEN ARROW (1996). It includes great versions of three songs from that album. Beyond that, many of the other selections are also a bit off the beaten path. True, there are two songs from RUST NEVER SLEEPS (1979) and one from AFTER THE GOLD RUSH (1970), all three of which have appeared on previous live albums. However, there are two songs from one of Neil’s all-time most underrated albums, ZUMA (1975), and neither one of them is “Cortez The Killer”! Also, there are two cool versions of songs from LIFE (1987), Neil & CH’s Geffen album. Throw in a fresh version of the Buffalo Springfield classic “Mr. Soul”, and a nice, mellow tune from COMES A TIME (1978), and you’ve completed the rather eclectic mix here.

All the songs were written by Neil Young:

1. When You Dance* (6:19)
2. Barstool Blues (9:02)
3. When Your Lonely Heart Breaks (5:04)
4. Mr. Soul (5:05)
5. Big Time (7:27)
6. Pocahontas (4:50)
7. Human Highway (4:07)
1. Slip Away (10:52)
2. Scattered** (3:59)
3. Danger Bird (13:33)
4. Prisoners*** (6:40)
5. Sedan Delivery (7:15)
* aka “When You Dance I Can Really Love”
** aka “Scattered (Let’s Think About Livin’)”
***aka “Prisoners Of Rock 'n' Roll”

The album opens with the perfect introduction, Neil’s now famous declaration “It’s all one song!” They proceed to march through a heavy version of “When You Dance” that owes more than a little to the LIVE RUST (1979) version. But, then, to prove that there’s no way in hell it’s all one song, Neil blisters through a mucho-guitar-solo version of the ZUMA hidden gem “Barstool Blues”. How “mucho” on the guitar solos? The original ZUMA version clocks in at a mere 3:02. This version is 9:02, 'nuff said.

Next comes what was almost a totally forgotten tune at that point, “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks” from LIFE. This is somewhat slow & plodding, but with a cool, laid-back feel. This is followed by an incarnation of “Mr. Soul” that seems drawn more from the UNPLUGGED (1993) version than the original. It’s pretty cool, with plenty of extra guitar pickin’ at the end.

“Big Time”, which is my favorite song from BROKEN ARROW, is represented very well here, complete with Neil’s fantastic guitar soloing. It’s very faithful to the original, clocking in at 7:27, amazingly close to the 7:24 of the original version.

“Pocahontas” seems to follow the slower pace of the UNPLUGGED version, but here it’s electrical, and plenty chunky. Neil’s vocals are relaxed to start, but seem to build to genuine anger at points. “Human Highway” closes out the first CD, with acoustic guitar and harmonica. The boys from Crazy Horse can’t quite match the harmony vocals Nicolette Larson provided on the COMES A TIME original, but it’s still a great song. Its inclusion here ultimately serves as a nice remembrance and tribute to her life, which ended in a very untimely fashion in December 1997.

“Slip Away” is a laid-back guitar opus, which at 10:52 even expands on the 8:36 BROKEN ARROW original. As performed here, it is definitely a welcome addition to Neil’s live guitar masterpieces. It’s not his most pyrotechnic, but rather a relaxed odyssey that definitely has its flashes of brilliance. “Scattered”, also from BROKEN ARROW, follows, and is fairly faithful to the chunky original. Here, the ending blends perfectly into “Danger Bird”.

Now, I could go on all day about “Danger Bird”, but I’ll try to boil it down. The original ZUMA version is an aural feast of distorted guitar-soloing virtuosity, and clocks in at a healthy 6:54. Here, nearly 22 years later, Neil’s first official live version finally appeared, and at a tremendous 13:33. Neil proudly represents this tune, and particularly his guitar work. Listening to this song yesterday actually gave me a hard-on, and at work, that’s not a convenient thing for me! (OK, so I made up the erection story. Still, I must say Neil’s guitar work here is nearly a sexual experience.) For the true Neil & CH fan, this one song easily justifies the entire album, not that it needs additional justification.

Neil & the boys take a romp through “Prisoners” from LIFE, which is a fun-loving tune about “record company clowns”. They “don’t wanna be good.” But, fortunately for all of us, they are. Neil’s guitar is on fire again here, and there’s even a hidden treasure, as he breaks into what sounds like a Hendrix-style “The Star Spangled Banner” for the last 70 seconds of this track.

“Smell the horse on this one!” Neil exclaims by way of introduction for the closer, “Sedan Delivery”. Of course this song was already on LIVE RUST (in addition to RUST NEVER SLEEPS), but a rockin’, slightly extended version like this one is always welcome on my stereo.

Bottom line: Though it begins and ends with familiar-sounding live cuts, in between are some great versions of some lesser-known Neil classics, as well as a couple new approaches to familiar tunes. Sure, I would rank it behind LIVE RUST and WELD. But, sh-t, that’s certainly no insult!!! If you’ve already got the other two, you should still grab this one. Or, even if you’ve only got LIVE RUST, you might want to grab this one anyway, because its price tag is generally well below that of WELD.


Post a Comment

<< Home