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Monday, June 04, 2012

Randomly Blogged: Interview w/ Shepard Fairey and Neil Young, 'Americana' Reviews, Vinyl News, Demme-Young Date Change

Shepard Fairey and Neil Young
Photo by Claire Marie Voge | Rolling Stone
(Click photo to enlarge)

From an interview with Shepard Fairey and Neil Young in Rolling Stone by Steve Baltin:
"We discovered a lot of depth in these songs and the visuals of these are just amazing," Young told us. "'Clementine' is so deep with its original verses and this art, you really get a feeling for the tenseness and desperation of the situation, the unresolved death and longing."

Fairey's work brought out a lot in the songs that Young believes he might not have seen otherwise. "Almost every one of them had a view that was unique to me," he said. "I wouldn’t have thought of it."

For Fairey, the project was a labor of love. "I’m just really excited I got to do this because I love Neil’s music and I love the way that music affects people viscerally and inspires them to look deeper into the meaning of the songs," Fairey said.

"We had to bring back the original words. Everybody’s forgotten what the songs are about in the first place in their kind of rabid celebration of the beauty of the songs and the lightness of some of the verses," Young said. "They took away the counterpoints the songs were a house for, and so the songs weren’t as strong. And now with the original verses back in and the art that reflects the tension of the original message, we’ve worked on it and made a different thing out of it."

Those words were music to Fairey's ears. "I’m so glad to hear that from Neil. We discussed some of that, but I almost didn’t want to press on all my political views just in case we disagreed," Fairey said, eliciting strong laughter from both himself and Young at that last part. "But my reading into a lot of the songs was it was very relevant to the struggle reflected in [John] Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath, which people are saying this recession is the most serious thing since the Great Depression and a lot of the same dynamics are at play, so I felt like it was very relevant."

Event Date and Time Change
Neil Young with Jonathan Demme
New Date/Time: Thu, Jun 7, 7:30 pm

Due to a scheduling conflict, our event with Neil Young and Jonathan Demme has been changed from Fri, Jun 8 at 8 pm to Thu, Jun 7 at 7:30 pm. It is now a VIP screening (open to the public) of the film Neil Young Journeys, acclaimed director Jonathan Demme’s third collaboration with legendary musician Neil Young. In this film (87 minutes), Demme accompanies Young on a road trip from his hometown of Omemee, Ontario to Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall for the last night of his solo world tour.

More @ Neil Young with Jonathan Demme: 92nd Street Y - New York, NY, June 8, 2012

From Neil Young CD: $10. Neil Young LP: $42 - Speakeasy - WSJ by Ethan Smith:
“Americana” will come on two discs of super-heavy, audiophile grade 180-gram vinyl—pressed in Germany, no less. Side 4, instead of featuring music, will come engraved with an etching of a Native American figure riding horseback. Liner notes will offer histories of the album’s 11 folks tunes, like “Oh Susannah” and “This Land Is Your Land,” reworked by Young and his band in their chugging, hard-rocking style.

The gatefold jacket for the collection is being printed using a technique called “paper-wrapped chipboard,” which costs more than other methods. Instead of printing the cover art directly on the cardboard record sleeve, the graphics are printed on paper, which is then attached to the sleeve.

From Old Weird Americana: Neil Young's Strangest Albums | SPIN | Discover | SPIN Lists:
Neil Young is many things: godfather of grunge; massively influential singer-songwriter; inimitable electric guitarist; world-class oddball. For every After the Gold Rush or Ragged Glory there's an album that makes even his most ardent admirers scratch their heads. A concept work about fuel-efficient cars? Check. Meandering improvised soundtracks? Coupla those. Kraftwerk-inspired new wave? Oh, definitely. On June 5, when Young's new Americana comes out, you can add lumbering distorto versions of traditional folk songs to the list, too. It's just the latest unpredictable left turn in a career full of them.

So saddle up and steel yourself for the untamed wilderness of Neil Young's strangest albums.

From 25 Best Neil Young Covers « Consequence of Sound By Michael Roffman and Jon Bernstein:
Next week, Neil Young and Crazy Horse will issue Americana, their first album in nine years, comprised entirely of reworked classic, American folk songs. In celebration of its release, Consequence of Sound decided to turn the tables and put together a list of our favorite covers of Young’s exhausting back catalogue. There are plenty – hundreds of them – and they stretch back to as far as the ’60s and ’70s. Because we couldn’t include them all, the list has been cut to a healthy collection of 25 solid inclusions.

Something to take away from this project: It’s an eccentric group of names, to be sure. Everyone from Smashing Pumpkins to Roxy Music, Patti Smith to Radiohead are included here, and that only speaks volumes to Young’s expansive influence. So, while you’re trekking through track after track, just think: This all goes back to one man.

Pretty wild.

-Michael Roffman

From Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Americana - Review | new adventures in hi-fi by James Ellaby:
One of the fun things about being a Neil Young fan is that you never quite know what you’re going to get when a new album comes out. Will it be a masterpiece or an ill-advised bout of experimentation? Americana certainly sounds like the latter, hooking up again with Crazy Horse to provide their take on old-timey American folk songs. And the British national anthem…

Have you ever wondered what She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain would sound like if it was turned into a Crazy Horse style plodding guitar dirge? Well, hopefully so, because that’s the essence of Americana. But, perhaps surprisingly, it mostly works out alright. It’s still a bit of a step backwards from 2010′s brilliant Le Noise album, but it’s far from the disaster some early reviews have painted it as, especially for fans of that trademark guitar sound.

From Neil Young reinvents songs the old-fashioned way - The Globe and Mail by ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN:
Neil Young’s new disc with Crazy Horse celebrates the fluidity of the folk process, and implies that a good transformative cover carries on that tradition. The album includes heavy blues-rock versions of genuinely old songs such as Clementine and Gallows Pole (Young’s version of the ballad studied by Child), and of fifties radio hits such as Get a Job and Travel On.

Young’s Clementine is a towering, doom-laden number with only a ghostly trace of the lilting dance rhythm most people know. He focuses your mind on the fact that the narrator’s darling ends up dead – the latter half of this lengthy track is one long lament. In Tom Dula (a.k.a. Tom Dooley), Young simplifies the familiar rhythm and bears down for eight minutes on the murder and the execution that will pay for it. For Oh Susannah, he sets aside the jaunty Stephen Foster original and covers the raw variant recorded as The Banjo Song by the Big Three in 1963 (cunningly reworked as Venus by Shocking Blue in 1969). Jesus’s Chariot goes back to the spiritual that became She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain, with a simplified melody and lots of heavy grinding on the song’s tonic root.

Throughout the album, Young’s vocals strive for something primal and true beneath the songs’ familiar surface. His slurry yet precise electric-guitar solos move powerfully through the darkest lyrical moods.

From BBC - Music - Review of Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Americana by Paul Whitelaw:
It's the latest chapter in his endless journey through the past – has there ever been a more inveterately backwards-looking rocker? – and appears to be an attempt to rake through the deepest soil of American roots music. Young’s intention is, presumably, to explore the continuing relevance of such hand-me-down themes, and cement his own personal connection to it.

But his intentions are scuppered by monotonous arrangements – Crazy Horse's ability to make every song sound identical, like a rustic Ramones at quarter-speed, is inadvertently funny – and a refusal to self-edit. Off-mic banter scattered throughout shows that all concerned are having fun, but none of that enjoyment translates through the speakers.

Young's raw, one-take ethos often serves him well. But without strong material to ignite them, he and his Horse revert to atavistic-codgers-jamming-endlessly-inside-a-corrugated-shed mode.

From Neil Young: Americana | American Songwriter by Jim Beviglia :
In a career full of stylistic curve balls, Americana finds Canadian-bred Neil Young dusting off the United States songbook to reveal the darkness at the heart of not only those oft-sung songs, but also the country that birthed them. By placing them in the crunching electric setting that only Crazy Horse can provide, Young doesn’t so much reinvent the songs (many of these arrangements were borrowed from other versions) as he does invigorate them. These songs have stood the test of time, and this fascinating album shows the reasons why.

This is no dry history lesson. The first three songs bust out of the box with such impact that it almost provides too high a standard for the rest of the album to match. After the swinging opening salvo of “Oh Susannah,” Crazy Horse supercharges “Clementine.” If all you know of this song is the version sung by Huckleberry Hound in the old Saturday morning cartoons (and I must admit that I fall into that group myself,) prepare to be schooled.

With a children’s choir along just to emphasize the song’s roots as a kids sing-along classic, Young and his buddies crunch their way through what is a truly creepy story about a miner’s daughter who falls to a watery death and the men she leaves behind. It’s telling that the band leaves in the verse about the narrator moving on with Clementine’s sister after her death, a verse often left out by spooked teachers. Young doesn’t judge; he just powers through the song until only rubble remains.

From Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Americana | Album Reviews | Pitchfork by Stuart Berman:
"Clementine", "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain", "Oh Susannah", and the like. These aren't songs anyone really listens to anymore, because we don't need to. They're practically part of our collective DNA: songs that you whistle while you work or use to sing your baby to sleep or to entertain impatient kids sitting around a campfire. Invariably, they're also songs whose simple, sing-along melodies obscure the real-life maladies-- poverty, unemployment, lost love, murder, crises of faith-- that originally inspired them over a century ago. As such, Americana isn't so much a covers collection as a concept album in the vein of Nick Cave's Murder Ballads: new variations on age-old themes that still resonate loud and clear today.

But just as the aforementioned Murder Ballads capped off its orgy of carnage with a surprisingly redemptive cover of Bob Dylan's "Death Is Not the End", Americana boasts a similarly high-concept denouement: Only Young would deign to close out a tribute to the American folkoric tradition with a cover of the British national anthem. Whether it's a backhanded salute to the country that incited the American Revolution in the first place, or simply a sly nod to his own roots in the Commonwealth, Young's "God Save the Queen"-- with its drunken drummber-boy beat, squealing electric-guitar fanfare, and cheeky choral vocal--proves to be just as blasphemous to Britain's most sacred song as the namesake number by his one-time muse Johnny Rotten. It ain't exactly Hendrix doing "The Star-Spangled Banner", but then that's precisely the point: It's Young's way of saying that-- even when you're dealing with another country's intellectual property-- this song is your song, this song is my song.

The “Americana” project developed as a result of Shepard Fairey’s relationship with Neil Young and his long-time manager Elliot Roberts. Fairey created a portrait of Young for the artist’s May Day show in 2010, based on his view of the musician as a social commentator philosophically aligned with people like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Joe Strummer. Young and Roberts then asked Fairey to design the art, CD and DVD packaging for the 25th anniversary of Young’s Bridge School charity. Fairey states, “Neil really liked the art and I was thrilled he asked me to collaborate by making paintings inspired by the songs on his “Americana” album. I’m a huge fan of Neil’s music in general, but when I heard the album I realized how much the subject matter of several songs reflected the aspirations and tragedies of those pursuing the American dream tied into issues relevant to the 99% movement which I have been supporting.”

Fairey says he listened to the music and lyrics to come up with concepts for visual representations of the songs. Then for each song, Fairey presented Young with ideas about a visual image that would best capture the meaning and/or protagonist/s in each song. The artist enjoyed hearing how Neil interpreted aspects of the songs that moved him the most musically and lyrically. Fairey states, “I showed Neil sketches, and then we discussed the ideas and refined them. He was very open to my ideas and encouraged me to go with what inspired me the most.

Latitude for interpretation is something that Neil utilizes and seems to value as an important way for the listener/viewer to personalize their interaction with art and music. I also was excited about this project because the concept of re-interpreting pre-existing songs filtered through Neil’s unique sensibility parallels what I have often tried to do as a visual artist by building upon iconic images that are an accessible part of the cultural dialogue.”

Each of the new Fairey paintings resonate powerful messages presented in the songs, some depicting a hopeful outlook on the pursuit of a better tomorrow, while others reflect the hardships that come in trying to achieve that dream. One painting related to Clementine, which captures the words of a mourning lover whose “darling,” the daughter of a California Gold Rush miner, drowned. Here she is represented by the levitating body of a young woman draped in white, with the text “And Gone.” Another painting is related to the 1848 minstrel song Oh Susannah that features a dungaree-wearing banjo player with the text “DON’T YOU CRY FOR ME.” Other works feature a wanted poster (Travel On); an iconic image of Queen Elizabeth embroidering an American flag (God Save the Queen); and, a lonely tree, stripped bare of its leaves, in a desolate landscape (Tom Dula).

For Young and Crazy Horse’s rendition of the famous 1940 Woody Guthrie song known to every school-aged child in America, This Land Is Your Land, written in response to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America, Fairey has depicted the hopeful face of a youth, set against a dramatic Western Landscape. Three rows of sharp, barbed wire cross the boy’s path with the text “NO TRESSPASSING / THIS LAND IS MY LAND.” The text is derived from a variant verse Guthrie added as a social commentary during a 1944 recording session. Fairey’s paintings are mixed media on canvas, including techniques such as stenciling, collage, and screen-printing. All of the paintings measure closely to the 30 x 44 inch dimension, which is one of Fairey’s standard choices of size. “Americana” is Neil Young with Crazy Horse’s first album together in nine years and is being released on June 5 on Reprise Records.

Poster by Shepard Fairey

(Click photo to enlarge)

Last call.

Just a reminder on the contest to win a free copy of the new book Neil Young FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Iconic and Mercurial Rocker.

Contest details are here.

Don't Be Denied!!!

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At 6/04/2012 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

I'm really starting to get into this Shepard Fairey person. He's done a lot of great modern political artwork. Did you know he designed those famous retro-looking political posters for Obama back in 2008? I wonder if he also did all the additional versions out there (such as the one for Nader that says "TRUTH" under it), or if they were done by imitators?

Anyway, Neil certainly picked the right guy to do the artwork for these songs.

His Americana paintings are so wonderfully detailed, and many emanate this stark pathos and darkness, which I think goes very well with the primal expressions of Crazy Horse.

At 6/04/2012 12:51:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Matthew - Mr. Fairey did indeed create that "retro" painting of Obama in 2008. It was meant to mirror the famous picture of Che Guevara - the political mass murderer of Central & South America glorified by leftists...

At 6/04/2012 02:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, in the same way that the Syrians fighting right now are political mass murderers, and the men who fought in WWII for the Allies are political mass murderers...then yes.

At 6/04/2012 02:58:00 PM, Blogger MARIAN M. said...


Regarding the 92Y event, this is the latest that I've been told (Today).

The time for the Neil Young Journeys film has been changed to 5:00 PM.

The Q & A will take place at 7:30 PM. However, there will be no excerpt as promised for the ticket holders.

Of course, this can all change in a minute.


Marian M.

At 6/04/2012 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Old Black said...

Fairey's work reminds a lot of the WPA artists' work in the '30's, which fits in really well with the video clips and the whole feel - especially This Land is Your Land.

At 6/04/2012 06:59:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

"So saddle up and steel yourself for the untamed wilderness of Neil Young's strangest albums"

Gotta love the Neil ride.
And it gets enforced when my 14 year old tells me today that his favorite song is Betty Lou's Gotta New Pair of Shoes. That cements it. Love that kid. He's got taste!

At 6/04/2012 07:31:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

Slideshow of all the Fairey paintings here:

At 6/05/2012 03:17:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Fairey's work looks interesting. I'll take a look sometime. About the Pitchfork reviewer's take on GSTQ, professional writers' ill-considered mixed metaphors sometimes make for a giggle:a backhanded salute would be quite a gymnastic feat indeed.

For the record, I think this version of GSTQ may be about the early US' political evolution as observed through the lens of its musical evolution, but I also think one has to remember NY's Candian roots. GTSQ would be part of the 'canon' of traditional music for him; Canada is both a part of the British commonwealth and certainly part of America, as in the North American Continent. And speaking as a US citizen, we and our northern neighbors do have some ties.

I can see how NY's GSTQ could come off as being totally irreverent, especially when heard on its own rather than in context of the similarly-styled cuts from this project, but I don't think it's meant with any great disresoect for the royals of today or of England itself.

At 6/06/2012 09:43:00 AM, Blogger TomCrac said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6/06/2012 09:45:00 AM, Blogger TomCrac said...

Hey Marian,

I just called over to the 92nd st Y and they told me it starts at 7:30 ...????

At 6/06/2012 10:34:00 AM, Blogger TomCrac said...

Just got an email from 92nd st Y..."Confirmation and Program Update

Neil Young with Jonathan Demme

New Date/Time: Thu, Jun 7, 7:30 pm

We are writing to confirm the date of our event with Neil Young and Jonathan Demme at 92Y, which, as we let you know last week, is Thu, Jun 7 at 7:30 pm. (not Friday, June 8 as originally ticketed). The program has also returned to its original format, with these two remarkable artists talking about their work together, and showing excerpts from the upcoming film, Neil Young Journeys, acclaimed director Jonathan Demme’s third collaboration with legendary musician Neil Young. In the film, Demme accompanies Young on a road trip from his hometown of Omemee, Ontario to Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall for the last night of his solo world tour. The film itself will not be shown in its entirety."


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