Friday, January 04, 2019

Neil Young - Songs for Judy (Reprise, 2018)

Before this music was officially released on this recording, it was widely known in collector's circles as The Bernstein Tapes, a compilation of Young's solo recordings from a 1976 tour, where he was frequently stoned, very witty and playing at a wonderful level, performing audience favorites and several then unreleased songs with stark beauty. It was one of my prized possessions during my pre-Internet tape trading days in the 1990's, a frequent companion on late night drives, and snowbound schleps to work running the cash register at a bagel shop. This release cleans up some of the audio artifacts of the past forty years, but keeps the close intimacy of the sound, placing you in the audience for Neil's bizarre off the cuff rap "Songs for Judy (Intro)" that gives this collection its name, and his witty asides introducing and commenting on the songs will continue throughout the album. The setlist is wonderful, with just enough hits and familiar radio tunes to keep the punters happy, while adding deep cuts and rare/unreleased songs to please the trainspotters. He comes out swinging with a potent "Too Far Gone," sounding comfortable on stage alone with just his guitar and harmonica, moving into a choppy "Heart of Gold" that is met by raucous cheers by the audience. "While Line" is a real surprise, a forlorn road song that wouldn't appear in the public record until years later as n over-amped rocker with Crazy Horse on the Ragged Glory LP, then mixing in a few more rarities, the beautiful banjo feature "Love is a Rose" and the wonderfully quirky "Human Highway" which was also the title of a film he co-directed, it was a song he said he kept trying to record but events conspired against him each time. I never could get behind the misogynistic "A Man Needs a Maid," especially with the bombastic organ treatment, but it's inclusion is tempered by beautifully nuanced versions of the bleary eyed narrative tracks "Roll Another Number" and Journey Through the Past" and a version of "The Old Laughing Lady" that is particularly poignant given Pegi Young's recent death and the song's opening refrain "Don't call pretty Pegi / She can't hear you no more..." The album is rounded out with two tracks that capture much of Young's output during this period, "Pocahontas" would soon to be an anchor on the immortal Rust Never Sleeps LP shows his abstract approach to narrative and reverence of nature, while "Sugar Mountain" is a coming of age song appropriate for a man who just turned thirty-one at the time, looking back and forward simultaneously. Songs For Judy -

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