Review: Neil Young's Dreamin' Man
Much has been written over the years about how Neil Young's 1992 "Harvest Moon" was the followup to his most commercially successful album "Harvest" - some 20 years later.
"Harvest Moon" was recorded with many of the same original musicians who appeared on "Harvest", such as Ben Keith, on pedal steel guitar, and Linda Rondstadt and James Taylor on backing vocals. The intentional sequel nature of "Harvest Moon" created high expectations which for the most part were fulfilled.
In an interview, Young denied that 'Harvest Moon' was a sequel to 'Harvest'. Regardless of whatever Young said at the time of Harvest Moon's release, critics and fans were nearly unanimously ecstatic with Young's "return to form" as the gentle, folkie singer-songwriter strumming delightful little gems.
From RollingStone.com in 1993:
Harvest Moon, is a chronicle of survival, focusing on loss and compromise and the ultimate triumphs of being a married father approaching fifty. It's full of bittersweet tributes to lost friends, dead hounds and love grown old. 'What this album is about is this feeling, this ability to survive and continue and grow and get higher than you were before,' says Young. 'Not just maintain, not just feel well. Not just 'I'm still alive at forty-five.' You can be more alive.'
Fast forward 17 years to Dreamin' Man where Young performs solo without embellishment, the entire Harvest Moon album, yet in a different sequence compiled from various cities.
But some are less than pleased with the results. The interminably hip and ever persnickety Pitchfork review by Joshua Klein manages to compliment what he disdains simultaneously:
Alas, compared to the treasure trove of releases Young's compiled in the past few years, Dreamin' Man is a real letdown. With its patchwork (and, as of press time, unknown) 1992 sources, the set's neither particularly representative of Young live nor particularly different from the pleasant Harvest Moon album itself (cheering and lack of backing vocals, strings and session hands aside). Young's voice is in fine fragile form on "Such a Woman" and "From Hank to Hendrix", and not that the original versions of the album's tracks were ever larded up with embellishments, but it's always nice to hear Young this stripped down.
And here's the takedown of Pitchfork's review by Joshua Klein from Blurt Online by FRED MILLS:
Journalists over the years have continued putting forth inaccurate, at times inane, notions about Harvest Moon (one held that the record was a stylistic and aesthetic successor to 1972's Harvest, but a cursory listen to both will quickly dispel that idea, too, titular similarities notwithstanding). With the release of Dreamin' Man Live '92 the revisionism-on-repeat has already begun - check, for example, a recent Pitchfork review for DML92 that essentially parrots the above-cited common wisdom about Harvest Moon without bothering, apparently, to compare the actual music on the two albums.
From The Independent by Andy Gill:
17 years on it's like a double-flashback, looking fondly back at songs which look fondly back: in "Unknown Legend", ageing hippies yearn for the freedom of their youth; in "From Hank To Hendrix", a man facing divorce reflects upon a fading relationship; and in "You And Me", a reference to an "old man" short-circuits the mind back to that song on Harvest, as Young ponders "how lifetime flies". There's even a song in which Neil apologises to old musician chums summarily abandoned as he flitted from style to style: "I never tried to burn any bridges, but I know I let some good things go," he acknowledges.
From Uncut Magazine (January 2010, p.120 - Thanks Thos!) by Bud Scoppa:
Here, though, he’s an old pro still capable of opening himself up to push his psychological limits, unconcerned that he’s performing this therapeutic ritual in public, before a crowd who presumably came to hear him play the hits.
What’s absolutely consistent is Young’s almost alchemical ability to mesmerise with the sparest of tools – his reedy quaver and sturdy but unflashy accompaniment providing the only embellishments to his elliptical lyrics and aching melodies. Not only is he one of a mere handful of musicians who have ever been able to stroll on stage with an acoustic guitar and blow people’s minds, but Young does it in a manner that actively seems do court indifference. Yet the total absence of any semblance of theatricality results in the sort of penetrating, ecstatic intimacy found in the most powerful passages of novels and the most haunting scenes from films.
By stripping down the Harvest Moon song cycle, Young guides us to its essence, as he probes the psyche of a guy wrestling with a long-term relationship shifting between the heated sentiment of “Such A Woman” and the unblinking objectivity – ambivalence, even – of “Natural Beauty”.
Assessing the ’92 tour, Young told his dogged biographer Jimmy McDonough that his hits-craving audiences “didn’t get what they wanted – but I got what I wanted”. Perhaps – but his refusal to cater to his fans only makes them love him more.
From a blog comment by D.I. Kertis:
I was surprised to find myself almost tearing up during Such a Woman. Powerful stuff, indeed. The Harvest Moon numbers seem to benefit from this minimal treatment in the same way that the songs from Harvest gained a new dimension with the excellent Live at Massey Hall release a couple of years back.
From Blogcritics Music by Donald Gibson:
Truth be told, these renditions don't sound all that different than their comparably low-key Harvest Moon counterparts, but Young redeems them with unflinching, soul-baring conviction and the sort of in-the-moment immediacy that only a live, solo treatment can inspire. So on something like 'Harvest Moon' or 'Such A Woman,' for instance, he's not aimlessly work-shopping their arrangements or reflecting them in radically divergent lights — just more intimate ones.
Craftsmanship matters, of course, and indeed it's present here. Over the arc of this live album, though, sincerity matters — and resonates — most of all. And so as Young cuts to the quick of 'War of Man' or the eleven-minute wonder of 'Natural Beauty,' in particular, he evokes their intrinsic spirits in ways both impassioned and strikingly prescient.
From The A.V. Club review by Noel Murray:
The absence of a band—and the addition of an audience—casts the Harvest Moon material in a different light, revealing the compositional strength of the best material and the slightness of the worst. Harvest Moon drew a lot of notice (and sales) back in ’92 because it represented a conscious return to the homey sound of Young’s most popular album, Harvest, and in a way, that sound pulled attention from the songs. Dreamin’ Man is something of a correction, albeit one that will likely matter only to Young fans and Neil Young himself.
From PopMatters By Zach Schonfeld:
Ultimately, I can’t help but view this release as a missed opportunity, its appeal consigned primarily to diehards and completists. No judgment there—I’m guilty, too. But if it’s an incentive for the casual fans to explore (or revisit) the wonderful studio album itself—well, I suppose it’s served a purpose.
From Snob's Music:
The result is an incredibly intimate disc. The focus is sharply on Young's songwriting, which hit a new zenith on Harvest Moon. The title track comes across as though Young is sharing a secret with you and only you. 'Harvest Moon' is absolutely irresistible, while 'Unknown Legend' solidifies its spot as a new wedding classic.
Usually I get wary when a live album has been culled from multiple performances. However, Dreamin' Man flows very well. The inclusion of audience noise and deft song sequencing give the illusion of this recording being one seamless concert.
From Glide Magazine By Doug Collette:
Young plays solo on acoustic guitar, harmonica and grand piano (banjo on 'Old King'), rendering the melodies of tunes such as 'War of Man' absolutely luminous. His distinctive high voice has perhaps never sounded so full of confidence, even as he sings 'One of These Days': 'I've never tried to burn any bridges/though I know I've let some good things go...' a veiled reference to his on and off working relationships with musicians including, but not limited to, Crosby Stills & Nash as well as Crazy Horse.
From No Depression by Douglas Heselgrave:
Presented in a solo acoustic format, without the yearning lap steel, sweet back up vocals and gentle percussions that decorated ‘Harvest Moon’, the songs assume more power on stage than they did in the studio. Beautifully played and sung with a rare passion, all of the versions of the ‘Harvest Moon’ songs are wonderful and sound as good as any Neil Young fan could hope for. Hell, even ‘Old King’, Young’s ditty about a departed family dog sounds elegiac and heartfelt on ‘Dreamin’ Man’. Though many of these songs were featured on 1993’s ‘Unplugged’ set, they don’t dig nearly as deeply or come anywhere close to the versions on offer here.
Released with little publicity and fanfare, ‘Dreamin’ Man’ is a perfect introduction to Neil Young’s music for those new to the artist. Or, if you’re a veteran, but your membership at the church of Neil has lapsed, there’s no better time than now to renew your faith and enjoy hearing the old man breathe new life into these classic tunes. ‘Dreamin’ Man’ is a gem and an unexpected treasure from one of popular music’s most enduring artists.
From LAist by Bobzilla:
Harvest Moon would turn out to be one of Young’s most deliberately crafted studio creations, a left turn for a guy known to bash out records in less time than other bands spend setting up the drum set. But perseverance paid off with his biggest commercial hit of the 1990s. It’s the overt next step in a series of records that includes Comes A Time, Old Ways and the inescapable Harvest itself, a certain type of record that Neil makes with his Nashville cohorts. It’s an escape from the chaos of Crazy Horse, a chance to get a good sound on the drums and have the whole band in time and in tune for once. The vocal harmonies are always splendid, and at their best, they really serve a certain part of Young’s creativity. But they miss the edginess, the teetering between glory and destruction, present in so much of his other work. Here, facing an audience that doesn’t really want to hear them, the Harvest Moon songs take on a different quality than their studio counterparts. “These songs lend themselves to solo performances,” Young told McDonough, and he’s not wrong.
Unable to coast on the comfort of familiarity, Young pours everything he's got into the music. The performances are heartfelt and immediate, the songs still close enough to their moment of conception to retain some surprises. The tender, dreamlike "Such A Woman", played as a lullaby on the grand piano, seems to stop time with its tempo just one or two notches above complete a standstill, Young's voice cradling the sentiment with care. Gentle strummers like "One Of These Days", "Unknown Legend" and the title track gain a warmth from the campfire setting that's missed in the more meticulously rendered studio versions.
The performances heard on the disc don’t necessarily capture the impatient vibe that he describes, but I certainly experienced it the night the tour hit LA’s Greek Theater in September, 1992. It was the rowdiest audience for a quiet acoustic concert I’ve ever seen, ready to scream their guts out when the lyric “I felt like getting high” came around, or sing along to “Roll Another Number”, noticeably less inclined to sit back and listen to much of anything.
From Spork: Neil Young - Dreamin’ Man Live ‘92 by Paul Epstein: "
I went into this release with a somewhat bad attitude. When I got a copy I put it on and was almost immediately transported. It is one of those things that Neil and only a few other performers I have seen can do; completely engross the audience as a solo act. Very hard to do. From the first note of this CD it is clear Neil is playing these songs (the entire Harvest Moon album before it was out) with an uncommon urgency. He is in beautiful voice and his solid, accompaniment is wondrous in its simplicity and natural perfection. He is what every dorm-room wannabe wants to be.
Like the earlier Massey Hall release the effect is transcendent. The concert ends (Dreamin’ Man is actually taken from a series of concerts) and you realize you have shared an intimate experience, not just listened to a record. The material stands up pretty well too. Harvest Moon is sort of the sequel to the classic Harvest and it showcases the loving, homebody Neil as opposed to the tortured rock warrior. His love songs resonate in the heart as profoundly as his electric guitar playing stings in the ears. This is another bullseye for the archive series.
From Blogcritics Music by Glen Boyd:
The backing vocals are likewise missed on songs like "Unknown Legend," and especially on "War Of Man." However, in the case of the latter, the lack of choir vocals only serves to better bring out the lonesome cry of Young's guitar and voice. What once sounded so lush on Harvest Moon seems far better suited to a more desolate sounding album like On The Beach here. As much I loved the Harvest Moon version, I think I may actually like this one better.
In fact, once you get past the differences, many of Harvest Moon's best songs become new revelations in these stripped-down arrangements. Played alone on the piano, "Such A Woman" takes on an almost hymn-like quality. "Natural Beauty" is likewise another track which sounds more powerful in a solo voice and guitar arrangement. I have to admit I still miss that steel guitar on "Hank To Hendrix," though.
From Seattle Music - Reverb by Brian J Barr:
Now, 17 years later, Young gives us Dreamin' Man Live '92, a rephrasing and re-sequencing of that album culled from the various solo performances he did prior to Harvest Moon's release.
This question seems to be dogging other critics as they express their frustration with this release. True, the passive listener will likely not hear much difference between these versions and their more polished twins on Harvest Moon. But I don't believe this album is for the passive listener. It is, as with all of his recent Archives Performance Series releases, for nerds like me--the Neil obsessive. It's also for Neil himself and, maybe, for the members of his inner circle who griped that the finished product never lived up to its potential. In other words, Harvest Moon was a collection of powerful songs whose emotional impact was lost in the layers of clean production and soft arrangements.
From Blurt Online by FRED MILLS:
Some reviewers have suggested a redundancy between this live album's "Natural Beauty" and Harvest Moon's, which was also recorded live, at Portland's Civic Auditorium early in the tour. The difference in texture and vibe couldn't be greater, however; whereas the former is Young as his most solo intimate and confessional, the latter was subjected to studio overdubs - vibes, bass, additional guitar and Larson's lovely vocals - giving the entire 10-minute minute song a stately, almost antebellum vibe. Ironically, though, it's Dreamin' Man's final cut, "War of Man," that provides the aesthetic and stylistic link with Harvest Moon. For while both are totally different arrangement-wise (the studio version was a kind of sturdy folk-rocker with prominent bass and a luminous pedal steel figure), the tune's indelible melody and soaring chorus - not to mention Young's deft, demonstrative picking, which powers both arrangements - makes it one of the most recognizable, and lasting, compositions in the songwriter's entire catalog.
But what do critics know anyways? Decide for yourself. Here's the entire album streaming. For free.
Track listing of "Dreamin' Man" on Amazon.com(Thanks everybody for all of your support!).
Incidentally, Dreamin' Man, is now
UPDATE: Here's the track sources using some very sophisticated research and analysis as posted on Rust and confirmed by Archives Guy:
01. Dreamin' Man - Portland, OR, 1992-01-24 (identified by Roel)
02. Such A Woman - Detroit, MI, 1992-05-20 (Falko)
03. One of These Days - L.A., CA, 1992-09-21 (Roel)
04. Harvest Moon - L.A., CA, 1992-09-21 (Roel)
05. You And Me - L.A., CA, 1992-09-21 (Roel)
06. From Hank To Hendrix - L.A., CA, 1992-09-22 (Johnny)
07. Unknown Legend - L.A., CA, 1992-09-22 (Johnny)
08. Old King - L.A., CA, 1992-09-22 (Johnny)
09. Natural Beauty - Chicago, IL - 1992-11-19 (Falko)
10. War Of Man - Minneapolis, MN, 1992-11-22 (Johnny)
Thanks Roel, Johnny and Falko!