Friday, September 14, 2007

Review of Chrome Dreams II

Click HERE to read at Uncut.
Oh, hell, I'll just reprint it here to make it easy:
Neil Young's "Chrome Dreams II"
2007-09-14 11:46:58

Apart from a few Beach Boys and Kosmische things I picked up in America in the early ‘90s, I’ve never been much of a bootleg collector; never had the time, I guess, with so much legitimately released music to get hooked on. As a consequence, my knowledge of Neil Young’s “Chrome Dreams” was limited to hazy memories from rush-reading Jimmy McDonough’s “Shakey” until news of “Chrome Dreams II” broke a few weeks ago.
I’ve heard “Chrome Dreams II” now, and I’m broadly struggling to see its connection to the first mythical set. In some ways, it’s a kind of reverse: if “Chrome Dreams” was a collection of great Neil songs that were subsequently dispersed across various disparate albums, “Chrome Dreams II” in part seems to be a collection of disparate, mainly great Neil songs that have been gathered together, somewhat belatedly.

We know – thanks to the unflinchingly accurate internet, at least – that the first three songs on this new album were all written and abandoned by Young at some point in the ‘80s. “Beautiful Bluebird”, a rheumy-eyed country amble, would have featured on the original, rejected version of “Old Ways”. “Boxcar”, a twanging and discreetly propulsive train song, was part of the shelved “Times Square” set that just predated “Freedom”.

There is no palpable reason why he’s sat on these two tunes for so long, but the mystery becomes more pronounced when track three arrives, and seems determined to never leave. This is “Ordinary People”, a heroically trudging narrative that lasts over 18 minutes and originates from the Bluenotes sessions circa “This Note’s For You” (if you look on Youtube, there’s some footage of Young playing the song live in 1988). My favourite Neil music has always been electric and long, with a sort of relentless, dogged purpose to it.

You could probably measure the pace of “Ordinary People” in swings of a wrecking ball, but there’s a difference between this and obvious comparison tracks like “Cortez The Killer” and “Like A Hurricane”. As each verse ends and Young steps up to solo, he’s joined by a blaring horn section, who occasionally duck out for solos themselves. When the sax player moves into the spotlight, and a piano line rolls through the mix, there’s an odd echo of ‘70s E-Street Band. It’s preposterous, and fantastic.

After this, the rest of the album is purportedly new music. Unlike “Living With War”, “Prairie Wind” et al, Young doesn’t stick to one style. Instead, he promiscuously wanders through a pretty wide range; it’s notable that his band here features one Crazy Horse (Ralph Molina), one Stray Gator (Ben Keith) and one Bluenote (Rick Rosas). Not all of these diversions are entirely welcome: “Shining Light” and “The Believer” have a limpid soul lilt that reminds me a little of my least favourite Neil album, “Are You Passionate?”; and the closing “The Way” nails the recurring theme of finding a path back to contentment, home, spiritual fulfilment and such, but does so with the aid of an inevitably mawkish children’s choir.

“Spirit Road” tackles the same issues much better, with a rattly belligerence and massed vocals that recalls “Living With War” and the best parts of “Greendale”. There are a couple more great rock songs on “Chrome Dreams II”, too: “Dirty Old Man” is a crude-as-hell garage gruntalong that reminds me variously of “Re-Ac-Tor”, some of “Ragged Glory” and “Piece Of Crap” from “Sleeps With Angels”. Even better, “No Hidden Path” is another epic workout (a measly 11 and a half minutes, if you’re counting), that very nearly matches “Ordinary People” for gravity, sustained intensity, and the sense that Young is still uncommonly close to the top of his game.

The whole thing adds up to an uncharacteristically satisfying hotch-potch. It’s a fool’s game to try and understand Neil Young’s infallibly contrary thought processes, but it sounds as if the preparation of Archives has inspired him to look at his career as a whole, to make more explicit the way it all fits together. After the righteous indignation of “Living With War”, the prevailing mood of “Chrome Dreams II” is of finding contentment. But what makes it so gripping is the number of contrasting ways that Young finds to make his point.
John Mulvey

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

LISTEN: "Ordinary People"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Ordinary People"

Word has it that the full 18-minute version of "Ordinary People" was just played on WXPN 88.5 FM in Philadelphia. With any luck, I should have it (FM--->cassette--->mp3) in my email sometime today.

My sources are telling me it's Freedom-era AMAZING!

UPDATE as of 3:50 PM: I have the MP3, but cannot listen yet (damn workplace rules)--more later!

UPDATE as of 6:30 PM: I have heard the MP3, and all I can say is KISS YOUR ASS GOODBYE!

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Chrome Dreams II Tracks/Tour Dates

Chrome Dreams II (set for release Oct. 16) tracklist:
01. Beautiful Bluebird (3:30)

02. Boxcar (3:15)
03. Ordinary People (18:13)
04. Shining Light (4:33)
05. The Believer (2:38)
06. Spirit Road (5:01)
07. Dirty Old Man (2:52)
08. Ever After (3:32)
09. No Hidden Path (11:31)
10. The Way (5:15)

Tour Dates:

10-18 Boise, ID - Morrison Center
10-20 Spokane, WA - INB Performing Arts Center
10-22 Portland, OR - Keller Theater
10-23 Seattle, WA - WaMu Center
10-27 Mountain View, CA - Shoreline Amphitheatre (Bridge School benefit)
10-28 Mountain View, CA - Shoreline Amphitheatre (Bridge School benefit)
10-30 Los Angeles, CA - Nokia Theatre
11-05 Denver, CO - Wells Fargo Theatre
11-08 Minneapolis, MO - Northrop Auditorium
11-10 Detroit, MI - Fox Theatre
11-12 Chicago, IL - Chicago Theatre
11-13 Chicago, IL - Chicago Theatre
11-15 Washington, DC - Constitution Hall
11-18 St. Louis, MO - Fox Theatre
11-26 Toronto, Ontario - Massey Hall
11-27 Toronto, Ontario - Massey Hall
12-02 Boston, MA - Orpheum Theatre
12-03 Boston, MA - Orpheum Theatre
12-05 Wallingford, CT - Chevrolet Theatre
12-09 Philadelphia, PA - Tower Theatre
12-12 New York, NY - United Palace
12-13 New York, NY - United Palace

Drumming up interest in Archives Vol. 1, I hope! (BRING ON the Archives, Neil! Thank you.)


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I Witnessed A Living Legend...

...on Saturday night. For the first time in my life, I saw Dave Mason play live in concert. Amazing. Great, soulful voice, and DAMN can he play guitar!!!

His band (2nd guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, drummer) was tight as heck. The setlist included Traffic classics "40,000 Headmen," "Dear Mr. Fantasy"* and "Feelin' Alright." They also did a KILLER "All Along the Watchtower" (as you might know, Dave Mason played on the studio recording of the Hendrix version). A couple of Dave's solo hits I recognized were "Only You Know and I Know" and "We Just Disagree."

Mr. Mason introduced a couple songs as "new": a pretty cool sounding country-rocker called "Are Your Legs Tired 'Cause You've Been Running Through My Mind" (a cliche even my beloved Neil might snicker at--good song though), and a southern-fried rocker called "Let Me Go"...DAMN! I wish I were a taper, because that 90-minute set kicked major buttocks!

* NOTE: Interestingly, for the only time all night, Dave let his 2nd guitarist play the HUGE guitar solo in the middle of "Dear Mr. Fantasy," and the guy was great, too! I think that might be further indication that Winwood played the amazing album version solo, although it was INFINITELY CLEAR to me that Mason could've played it--or just about any other damn thing I've ever heard (blistering/stinging guitar, great wah wah effects, etc.).


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Then Play On

Posting about wayward actor Peter Greene the other day naturally led me to think about wayward guitarist Peter Green, founding member of Fleetwood Mac. That's the Fleetwood Mac of the late-'60's that helped pioneer and advance heavy blues-rock as a popular musical format. What a crazy time that was! Rod f*cking Stewart was essentially Robert Plant before Robert Plant, as lead vocalist of The Jeff Beck Group, which was essentially Led Zeppelin before Led Zeppelin (or, at least early Led Zeppelin before Led Zeppelin). And, equally as astounding, there was a pre-"Don't Stop" Fleetwood Mac that actually kicked ass!!! (The song could've been called "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow, because if you think about the past you'll realize what a bloody joke we've become!!!")

Peter Green was the guitarist that replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Blues Breakers, where he played with bassist John McVie, and ultimately was able to bring drummer Mick Fleetwood aboard. Fleetwood Mac was born from there. By the time of their third LP, Then Play On, second guitarist Danny Kirwan had been added more or less in replacement of the slide guitar of Jeremy Spencer. In fact, this was the line-up for Then Play On:

Fleetwood Mac
Peter Green - vocals, guitar, harmonica
Danny Kirwan - vocals, guitar
John McVie - bass
Mick Fleetwood - drums
Jeremy Spencer - piano on "Oh Well" {Pt 2}
Additional Personnel
Christine Perfect - piano (uncredited)
Big Walter Horton - harmonica (uncredited)

[Note: Christine Perfect subsequently became Christine McVie.]

As with many releases by British bands in the '60's, the track list and running order varied in the U.S. compared to the UK. I didn't even dig out my old vinyl, opting instead for the convenience of the CD (yes, I have "replaced" many of my LP's with CD's--I just haven't been able to part with the now redundant vinyl, but that's an issue for my therapist, if I ever get one).

1. "Coming Your Way" (Kirwan) – 3:47
2. "Closing My Eyes" (Green) – 4:50
3. "Showbiz Blues" (Green) – 3:50
4. '"My Dream" (Kirwan) – 3:30
5. "Underway" (Green) – 2:51
6. "Oh Well" (Green) – 8:56
7. "Although the Sun Is Shining" (Kirwan) – 2:31
8. "Rattlesnake Shake" (Green) – 3:32
9. "Searching for Madge" (McVie) – 6:56
10. "Fighting for Madge" (Fleetwood) – 2:45 ("Like Crying" giggle still left here)
11. '"When You Say" (Kirwan) – 4:22
12. "Like Crying" (Kirwan) – 2:21
13. "Before the Beginning" (Green) – 3:28

The liner notes from my CD begin thusly: Flexing the lean blues muscle that earned them a solid reputation among musical purists, Fleetwood Mac, on their landmark 1969 release Then Play On, also demonstrated a songwriting and performing skill that would eventually catapult the band into world class status. The LP spotlights several indispensable Fleetwood Mac classics, including Peter Green’s nearly nine-minute opus “Oh Well,” one of the most innovative, and oft-imitated blues/rock workouts in modern music. Other standouts include the Hendrix-influenced “Underway,” the fierce “Rattlesnake Shake” and the subtly shaded “Although The Sun Is Shining.”

Not bad. Another favorite of mine not mentioned above is "Show-Biz Blues." But, heck, this sucker is stacked from start to finish. Let's check in with the AllMusic review by Michael G. Nastos: This Peter Green-led edition of the Mac isn't just an important transition between their initial blues-based incarnation and the mega-pop band they became, it's also their most vital, exciting version. The addition of Danny Kirwan as second guitarist and songwriter foreshadows not only the soft-rock terrain of "Bare Trees" and "Kiln House" with Christine Perfect-McVie, but also predicts Rumours. That only pertains to roughly half of the also excellent material here, though; the rest is quintessential Green. The immortal "Oh Well," with its hard-edged, thickly layered guitars and chamber-like sections, is perhaps the band's most enduring progressive composition. "Rattlesnake Shake" is another familiar number, a down-and-dirty, even-paced funk, with clean, wall-of-sound guitars. Choogling drums and Green's fiery improvisations power "Searching for Madge," perhaps Mac's most inspired work save "Green Manalishi," and leads into an unlikely symphonic interlude and the similar, lighter boogie "Fighting for Madge." A hot Afro-Cuban rhythm with beautiful guitars from Kirwan and Green on "Coming Your Way" not only defines the Mac's sound, but the rock aesthetic of the day. Of the songs with Kirwan's stamp on them, "Closing My Eyes" is a mysterious waltz love song; haunting guitars approach surf music on the instrumental "My Dream"; while "Although the Sun Is Shining" is the ultimate pre-Rumours number someone should revisit. Blues roots still crop up on the spatial, loose, Hendrix-tinged "Underway," the folky blues tale of a lesbian affair on "Like Crying," and the final outcry of the ever-poignant "Show Biz Blues," with Green moaning "do you really give a damn for me?" Then Play On is a reminder of how pervasive and powerful Green's influence was on Mac's originality and individual stance beyond his involvement. Still highly recommended and a must-buy after all these years, it remains their magnum opus.

I don't necessarily agree with the "predicting Rumours" stuff. All I know is it's pretty damned good!