Thursday, January 31, 2013

Neil Young, After the Goldrush (1970)

After the Goldrush (1970) probably vies with Harvest as the most critically acclaimed Neil Young album and for good reason. The thin vulnerable fragility of Young's barely twenty-year old voice captures the self-introspection of the era of the singer-songwriter as much as Leonard Cohen's deadpan delivery or Bob Dylan's nasal poetry. 

Tell Me Why opens the album with a series of existential questions set to a rollicking acoustic guitar arrangement. "Sailing hardships through broken harbors / Out on the waves in the night / Still the searcher must ride the dark horse / Racing alone in his fright / Tell me why, tell me why." The apocalyptic title track with its sparse piano setting boasts a beautiful melody into which a French horn suddenly breaks. Yes a French horn. (makes another appearance in "Till the Morning Comes" the little single line ditty that closes side 1) Young sees "Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s" and envisions a science fiction scenario to avert the ecological disaster (or at least give the human race a fresh start elsewhere).

Well I dreamed I saw the silver
space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun
There were children crying
and colors flying
All around the chosen ones
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun
They were flying Mother Nature's
silver seed to a new home in the sun.

Southern Man with its blistering electgric guitar workout is in the same genre as Harvest's 'Alabama' which drew the ire of Lynyrd Skynyrd in Sweet Home Alabama
"Well I heard mister Young sing about her / Well, I heard ole Neil put her down / Well, I hope Neil Young will remember / A Southern man don't need him around anyhow.' And Young is certainly unsparing in his condemnation.


I saw cotton
and I saw black
Tall white mansions
and little shacks.
Southern man
when will you
pay them back?
I heard screamin'
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

Southern man
better keep your head
Don't forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man

The ragged glory of Young's frenzied distorted guitar work mostly around two or three notes jabbing and biting like he really means business.

The cover of the country standard Oh Lonesome Me takes the jauntiness of the original and transforms it with a more downbeat depressive arrangement more in keeping with the lyric. Birds must surely be one of the most beautiful songs Young has written. Its chorus: 'When you see me fly away without you / shadow on the things you know / feathers fall around you / and show you the way to go / It's over. It's over.' The rocking When You Dance (I Can Really Love) is reminiscent of Buffalo Springfield-era Neil. The plaintive I Believe in You positively aches  - 'Now that you've made yourself love me do you think I can change it in a day? How can I place you above me? Am I lyin' to you when I say that I believe in you?' The album closes with Cripple Creek Ferry bringing to mind Huck Finn on the mighty Mississippi a tribute to Young's adopted country. He is after all the most American Canadian alive.

I give this stone cold American classic 5 stars!
Original gatefold cover to vinyl LP

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