Thursday, February 16, 2006

“Green Onions” Spook The Horse

Obviously, I have very little sense of timing. ARE YOU PASSIONATE? (2002) certainly would’ve been the most logical choice as the subject of my Valentine’s Day post, especially since I have not seen the movie “Heart of Gold” yet. But, alas, another opportunity slips through my fingers. So, here I sit, two days late.

In any event, this album features 3/4 of Booker T. & The MG’s [Booker T. Jones – organ, vibes and vocal; “Duck” Dunn – bass (& vocal on “Differently”); Steve Potts – drums, bongos and tambourine; Missing is guitarist Steve Cropper]. They were the session band for Stax Records in the '60s, and had a great instrumental hit themselves with “Green Onions” in 1962. (Additionally, Neil toured with them in 1993.)

These guys basically pioneered the Stax sound, and to a great extent helped define “Memphis Soul”. As I mentioned in my previous post on THIS NOTE’S FOR YOU, I’m more of a back-alley kind of guy when it comes to blues. So, I’m far from an expert on old soul music. Accordingly, I’m not going to be able to pontificate on which rhythms were lifted from which old songs to create these 11 “new” songs. Sorry if that disappoints anyone, and you can click here for that type of thing. However, there is no doubting these guys have the ultimate credibility in this genre, and their playing provides Neil excellent support on this project.

All the songs were written by Neil Young:

You’re My Girl (4:43)
Mr. Disappointment (5:24)
Differently (6:03)
Quit (Don’t Say You Love Me) (6:03)
Let’s Roll (5:53)
Are You Passionate? (5:11)
Goin’ Home (8:47)
When I Hold You In My Arms (4:43)
Be With You (3:34)
Two Old Friends (6:15)
She’s A Healer (9:10)

This album stumbles out of the gate a bit in my estimation. “You’re My Girl” and “Mr. Disappointment” are both catchy enough musically, and Neil’s guitar work is ultra-cool. However, on the former, his singing seems to be a bit beyond its upper limit (read: high and whiny). You know how his falsetto on “After the Gold Rush” is brilliant, and fits that amazing song perfectly? Well, this isn’t the case here, in my humble opinion. It doesn’t really even sound like a falsetto, just out-of-range high. “Mr. Disappointment” features Neil growling along in some sort of pseudo-Louis Armstrong/Tom Waits voice that doesn’t quite cut it for me either. Then, suddenly he breaks into the way-too-high-pitched thing again. Odd. Anyway, I really like his guitar on these songs, but not his vocal performance.

The disc seemingly hits its stride on the 3rd song, “Differently”. It has a great, bluesy guitar intro, and the vocals are comfortably in Neil’s range. Did I mention the guitar was great? I did? Excellent. “Quit (Don’t Say You Love Me)” is another strong entry, with soulful blues guitar once again, and good vocals by Neil and company. Then, things hit another snag on “Let’s Roll”.

From the opening cell phone sound effects, to the hackneyed, not-very-catchy guitar riff, it’s immediately clear that this song is no latter-day “Ohio”. Neil and fans, please believe me when I say that I appreciate the sentiment. But, this is among my least favorite Neil tunes ever. I wasn’t sure how I was going to write about this one. But, when I read what Mike “Expecting 2 Fly” Cordova had to say about it (“Musically, it's a relatively uninteresting song and it has some lyrics that are troubling. But the theme of support for the passenger uprising against the terrorists was at some level admirable. I wanted so much to like this song more than I do. Fortunately, most of AYP? sounds nothing like Let's Roll.”), I thought he summed it up just about perfectly. So, there you have it: at least 2 huge Neil fans that would rather “Let’s Roll” had never rolled.

Thankfully, the title track offers a good recovery. Slow and aching, Neil’s guitar is oozing soul and his vocal delivery is right on. “Are You Passionate?” The question answers itself here. Neil even throws in an unexpected few seconds of feedback at the very end, opening the door to the lone appearance of Crazy Horse, “Goin’ Home”. Neil, Poncho, Billy and Ralph play a great, grinder of a tune, with lyrics about “Custer”, “Indians”, “battleground”, “downtown”, “assorted slimes”, etc. Is this a post-modern “Cortez the Killer”? Perhaps not, but it is a very satisfying listen to me. Interestingly, this song ends as abruptly as any Crazy Horse song ever has (and, poof…they’re gone again).

The album finishes stronger than it started. “When I Hold You In My Arms” is a good, bluesy tune. “Be With You” is an upbeat, soulful number. This one sounds to me to be the most likely candidate for a hit single, especially had it been released in the mid-'60s. “Two Old Friends” is slow and soulful with shades of gospel (“Oh Lord there’s so much hate/In a world where we’re from another place/Show me how to be like you”) and more great, blues guitar from Neil. Finally, “She’s A Healer” is a grand finale, at least in this setting (“Way out on the prairie/Back where the wheat fields grow/I stop to slap plastic at an Esso station/About a thousand miles from my destination” and “All I got is a broken heart/And I don’t try to hide it/When I play my guitar”).

I feel obligated to note here the odd coincidence that this album followed THIS NOTE'S FOR YOU by 14 years, just as NOTE'S had followed ON THE BEACH by 14 years. Apparently, Neil will be due for another blues (or overtly "blues-influenced") album in the year 2016. That would be sweet, as he would be coming off his 70th birthday, a veritable B.B. King. (Actually, B.B. King is 80 years old! That's even better, because damn, doesn't the thought of having Neil around for at least 20 more years make you smile?) Anyway, the moods of these three albums are all different. Whereas NOTE'S would've been played at the party, I think ARE YOU PASSIONATE? was Neil's attempt at what you would play for the girl you brought home from the party. (ON THE BEACH would be the one you played for yourself after you went home from the party alone because either your best friend or your worst enemy went home with the girl you had your eye on.)

Bottom line: Like Mike said about “Let’s Roll”, I, haahnster, wanted so much to like this album more than I do. Neil’s guitar work is really cool, and for the most part unlike anything else he’s done outside of THIS NOTE’S FOR YOU. However, he tries to stretch himself a bit too much vocally on the first two songs, and should’ve omitted the out-of-place “Let’s Roll”, which is basically a dud. He also could’ve saved “Goin’ Home” for the next Crazy Horse project (if there ever is one), even though I like it. I guess my true “bottom line” on this one is that it’s decent background music, but who knows when I’ll reach for it again. (Maybe that's proof that I'm not a very romantic guy?)


Post a Comment

<< Home