Thursday, November 29, 2007

2007: Album of the Year

Much to my surprise, my album of the year is a concert recording from 36 years ago, followed closely by an album that was never released.

Neil Young's spectacular "Live as Massey Hall 1971" is a remarkable recording from what must have been a magical evening. Solo Neil, with a small Toronto audience that braved the January cold.

Listening to this recording, one realizes how amazingly powerful and evocative Neil's voice is. The concert was between "After the Gold Rush" and the chart busting "Harvest", with Neil singing many "new" songs, like "Heart of Gold", "Journey Through the Past", etc. Can you imagine being in the audience that night and hearing these songs for the first time?

The recording is outstanding, really capturing the depth and subtlety of the guitar/piano and singing. Listening to this album, one realizes how extraordinarily good Neil was back in the day.

Going through the album, it has the definitive versions of classics like "Old Man", "Journey Through the Past", "Heart of Gold", "On the Way Home", "Man Needs a Maid", "See the Sky About to Rain", and "Tell Me Why".

Needless to say, any Neil Young album that has 7 definitive tracks is a must own and a must listen. Neil Young "Live at Massey Hall 1971" is my 2007 album of the year.

The close second is another Neil Young album, but one that was never released. "Chrome Dreams" is the mythical never released Neil Young album from 1977. Always discussed in hushed tones, some of the tracks made it into subsequent albums, but not all.

A little over a month ago, Neil release Chrome Dreams II, a "sequel" to that 1977 album. A mixed bag, but notable for having the 18 minute epic "Ordinary People", which had been cut from the "This Notes for You" album 20 years ago. Worth purchasing just for that song (wow!)

The hype leading up ti Chrome Dreams II worked its magic on the internet, and (via this post by Fred Wilson) I finally got to fulfill a dream and hear the album.

What an amazing album!

The definitive version of Pocahontas (one of the best songs ever made), a great take on Too Far Gone (one of the better songs on the Freedom album), the unbelievable Stringman (which I had never heard before), a definitive acoustic take on Powderfinger, and familiar versions of classics Like a Hurricane, Homegrown, and Captain Kennedy.

Taken together, Massey Hall and Chrome Dreams may bump After the Gold Rush and Freedom from my "You only have 2 Neil Young albums you can take to the deserted island" list

As an aside, back in the early 80s, right after I discovered Neil Young, my best friend Terry's mom let us know that Rolling Stone had had a great interview with the man a couple years before (kind of surreal rereading that article after all these years). In that interview, he hinted at the treasures that were waiting in his vaults, waiting for the day when he was all done:

One of Young's long-standing jokes is that he's saving his best material for his "Bus Crash" album. The few who have heard samplings of Young's tape vaults -- songs that didn't fit into the flow of his albums, entire unreleased works, live tapes, Buffalo Springfield tapes -- agree that some of his most compelling performances are among the unreleased material.

"All those songs," he says, "they're still there. They're there. And they're in an order. They're not gone. But, you know, they're old songs. Who wants to hear about it. They're depressing. They are. It's like ancient history to me. I don't want to have to deal with that stuff coming out."

"Until," I ask, "you're not around to deal with them coming out?"

"That's right," he says. "Then they're there. I think every artist plans for the future like that. I have things in a certain order, so that if anything ever happened to me it would be pretty evident what to do."

With a discography that included (at the time) Harvest, After the Gold Rush, Rust Never Sleeps, Decade, etc etc, we sat there in awe imagining what might be in The Vault. The image of " would be pretty evident what to do" haunted me then, and I've thought about it often in the years since.

Fast forward 25 years. Neil is releasing a whole series of live performances (volume 3 of which is the Live at Massey Hall gig from 1971). If you get the version of Massey Hall with the DVD, there is actually an old film of the concert (wow!). The vault is loosening up.

Inside the packaging is a nondescript insert saying:

Neil Young
The Archives Vol 1

8-CD, 2-DVD collection. The first volume in the definitive audiobiography.

After 25 years, the vault is finally opening. Terry my friend, this note's for you.

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