Thursday, February 02, 2006

Neil as a Reagan Democrat?!?

HAWKS & DOVES (1980) is the album that followed RUST NEVER SLEEPS and LIVE RUST (both from 1979). And, it was, in turn, followed by the total grunge-fest RE*AC*TOR (1981). So, of course, if you've learned anything about Neil's career yet, it would stand to reason that HAWKS & DOVES is a relatively good-natured little folk-rock album, and a somewhat confused one at that.

Keep in mind that the songs are all Neil originals as you look at the line-up below, because at least one title will throw you off:

Side One
Little Wing (2:10)
The Old Homestead (7:38)
Lost in Space (4:13)
Captain Kennedy (2:50)
Side Two
Stayin’ Power (2:17)
Coastline (2:24)
Union Man (2:08)
Comin’ Apart at Every Nail (2:33)
Hawks & Doves (3:27)

No, "Little Wing" is NOT a cover of the Jimi Hendrix song of the same title, although maybe it should be. This one is a mellow, little tune written in 1975. It's not a bad song; it's just not that memorable either. Now, the next three are also acoustic, with some unobtrusive backing (Drums: Levon Helm; Bass: Tim Drummond; Saw Player: Tom Scribner), but much more storyteller-Neil in nature. "The Old Homestead" was written in 1974, and is an example of a really good or great song that Neil took years to record and/or release. The lyrical imagery is vibrant, and supported perfectly by the haunting guitar. I love the line, "Why do you ride that crazy horse?" No possible double-meaning there...

"Lost in Space" has absolutely no noticeable ties to the old TV show of the same name. Again, it's interesting lyrically, and basically folk in nature. Now, "Captain Kennedy" is the hidden gem. This one really explores a Dylanesque style, early Dylan at that ("He worked 'til his fingers wore to the bone/To buy that wooden schooner and sail on his own").

Side Two features a different line-up of musicians (Drums: Greg Thomas; Bass: Dennis Belfield; Steel & Dobro: Ben Keith; Fiddle: Rufus Thibodeaux; Guitar, Piano: Neil Young; Harmony Vocals: Ann Hillary, Ben Keith), and is more country-rock in style. "Stayin' Power" is a harmless little, piano-driven tune, although there's something odd about Neil singing so optimistically about love. "Coastline" is really a country song, but again with the uncharacteristic optimism.

"Union Man" is a foot-stomping country-rocker (dare I say "country-grunge"?). But, when Neil sings, "I'm proud to be a union man," the sarcasm is just dripping from every word. The song is funny, but an odd political alignment for Neil. "Comin' Apart at Every Nail" is musically similar to "Union Man", but comes across as much more sincere and pro-worker ("Hey, hey, ain't that right/The workin' man's in for a hell of a fight"). And, just to keep things confounding, "Hawks & Doves" is a country-rocker that closes out the album on a patriotic note. I'm not talking "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World"-type irony. I'm saying this is genuine flag-waving. It would seem Neil was buying at least some of what Reagan was selling. It just seems odd to include a series of political songs that don't merely straddle the fence, but actually jump over and back from one side to the other. Especially when we're told that very fence is "comin' apart at every nail".

Bottom line: More than a bit uneven. However, there are a couple good, albeit confusing, listens ("Union Man", "Comin' Apart at Every Nail"), and a couple of really good listens ("The Old Homestead", "Captain Kennedy"). But songs such as "Stayin' Power" are fairly forgettable. And, as a title track to a Neil Young album, the song "Hawks & Doves" certainly does not compare to the likes of "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere", "After the Goldrush", "Tonight's the Night", "Comes a Time", etc. The '70s were blending into the '80s, and I suppose it was a confusing time for us all.


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