Neil Young & the International Harvesters
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2011, Volume 18, #8
Written by John Metzger
Wed November 30, 2011, 05:30 AM CST
Neil Young’s A Treasure is the ninth chapter in his superb series of archival recordings. Like its predecessors, the collection forsakes the presentation of an entire concert. Instead, it contains highlights that were taken from Young’s tour with the International Harvesters in 1984 and 1985. Although Young increasingly appears to be gravitating toward this approach, it has its drawbacks. Namely, by offering mere snapshots of his live performances, Young is assembling a series of albums, which sometimes feel more disjointed than is necessary. At the same time, though, the music he has managed to unveil in the five years that have passed since the release of Live at the Fillmore 1970 collectively has provided significant insight into the various personas that he has adopted over the course of his career.
There is no denying the fact that the decade of the 1980s was a turbulent and somewhat confused era in Young’s career. His restless nature led him to stomp around with a vocoder (Trans), dabble in country (Old Ways), join the rockabilly revival (Everybody’s Rockin’), and unleash his love of old-school R&B (This Note’s for You). In the process, he not only alienated many of his longtime fans, but because his studio albums didn’t present a cohesive identity, he also failed to secure a new crop of followers. In concert, though, Young was as solid as ever — so much so that the theory that his studio work was merely the byproduct of an irascible personality — along with a desire to escape a recording contract — was entirely believable.
Amidst the chaos of the wildy divergent tendencies he demonstrated throughout the 1980s, though, Young also appears to have been following his heart. When Old Ways was rejected by his record label, Young assembled the International Harvesters — a group that included frequent collaborators Spooner Oldham, Ben Keith, and Tim Drummond — for a lengthy tour that seemed designed to justify its existence. Not surprisingly, the journey culminated with the release of a revamped rendition of the effort. A Treasure settles comfortably into this country-imbued diversion, and its contents serve as cement, further binding together Young’s acoustic forays from Harvest to Old Ways to Prairie Wind.
Much like Old Ways, A Treasure emphasizes Young’s forays into country music. Taken together, the tracks on these albums represent his most straightforward attempts to explore the genre. In a fashion that by now is familiar to Young’s fans, only two selections from Old Ways surface on A Treasure — the bouncy, country-rock of Bound for Glory and the propulsive, bluegrass-charged Get Back to the Country. Elsewhere, Young revamps material from his past — sometimes subtly, as he does with Buffalo Springfield’s Flying on the Ground Is Wrong and sometimes dramatically, as he masterfully does with two songs from Re-ac-tor — Southern Pacific, Motor City — both of which sound strikingly vital in today’s economic climate.
Most notable of all, Young interprets Joe London’s It Might Have Been and reveals five original compositions that not only blur the lines between Young’s canon and Nashville tradition but also had been buried in his vault until the release of A Treasure. Let Your Fingers Do the Walking, for example, would fit neatly within the framework of Waylon Jennings’ career, while Grey Riders captures the raw fury of Crazy Horse as it stampedes across the Wild West. Through it all, Young weaves together stories about working-class families who are struggling to survive in a country that has lost its way, and he reflects on the notion that life, love, family, and friends are the treasures that truly must be cherished.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box