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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Comment of the Moment: The Mix on The Americana Album

Neil Young
Frame from film A Day At The Gallery
(Click photo to enlarge)

Quite the reaction to the post Old Men, Take a Look at Your Work: Why Neil Young and Jerry Seinfeld Need to Stop Phoning It in or Retire Already earlier this week.

Surprise, surprise.

Some thought the thrust of the commentary that Neil Young is phoning it in on Americana was accurate. And -- naturally -- others disagreed feeling that the album demonstrates the passion and power that is known as Crazy Horse.

Lots of interesting comments all over the map to check out. And thanks to all for the civil debate.

But here's a comment that we'd like to highlight by BIGCHIEF regarding the mix on the Americana album :
I have to say that I agree with 'Old Black' in that even though Americana isn't the most vital or original Crazy Horse record to come along in quite a while, there's definitely something amiss in the mix.

Since I was already exposed to the music along with everyone else via the internet along with the videos as they were released, I was keenly aware that the sound quality had left a lot to be desired. especially since during this same era Neil had also been quite vocal of his dissatisfaction of the audio sources at his disposal.

Though I don't care for the record as a whole there are a few songs that I consider to be genuinely legitimate Crazy Horse rockers that I get into. I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of my vinyl copy (compliments of my good friend Sandy Horne) which I must say left me disappointed when I placed it on my turntable for the first time. After having my ears teased for several weeks with the digital crap we were exposed to, as Old Black said the mix on the LP sounded 'muddy' and nowhere close to what I expected. I'm not even referring to whether I consider the songs not up to par with previous Crazy Horse recordings such as Zuma or Ragged Glory, I'm talking about the final mix here. Neil's guitar is buried in the mix at moments of brilliance which left me wondering how it would have been with Briggs at the mixing board. The vinyl recording did everything it was supposed to do as far as bringing out the depth and warmness and punch without feeling as if I'm being pelted by ice cubes, yet there is obviously something amiss in the final mix of the recording.

I'm sorry if I let some of you purists down with my observations here but that's just my opinion. However, I don't think it has anything to do with Neil's age and I doubt if he handed the mixing chores over to Jerry Seinfeld but as for me, I wish I never got old ....


Now we haven't listened to our vinyl copy as of yet and plan to soon so we can't really verify BIGCHIEF's comments. And we've primarily listened to Americana in our car and some of the early pre-release streams on headphones. And can't say that we find anything particularly problematic with the mix.

Our hunch is that we saw the Americana mix setup in the oh-so awesome "Horse Back" video we saw earlier in January. And that sounded pretty good streaming on crappy PC speakers.

Anyways, as with so many things, we're not an audio expert but just a fan so here's what the audio mix expert Bob Gendron at TONEAudio MAGAZINE thinks:
Recorded on a Universal Audio tube console and to Studer two-inch eight-track analog tape, thick chords and rough-and-ready riffs hang, wander, growl, gurgle, and toss around in the dirt; drum beats smack and slap like wet towels whapped against a cement wall. Everything, save for several well-placed choir vocal passages, is captured in the moment, fortifying Americana as the sound of a real, live band performing in a real space. After the collective’s nine-year hiatus, the dynamic is refreshing and reinvigorating to experience once again, even if it’s now been in commission for four-plus decades.

Now we're going to unwrap our vinyl Americana and give it a spin.

And then await the Bluray version... ;)

Labels: ,


At 7/28/2012 02:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Americana is by far the best Neil album since at least Greendale in my opinion.

I was so surprised. I've loved Neil's live shows over the last few years, but I haven't really enjoyed any of the albums from Prarie Wind to Le Noise. They all sounded rushed, and the song writing was generally very weak, in my opinion.

Americana is so much better! A few tracks sound rushed, but on the whole the performances are great. The blu-ray version through headphones sounds fantastic, and the videos really add something to the songs. I only hope the next album will be as good. If Neil took the time to write some decent songs before recording, then it should be really good.

But that is a big 'if', based on most of his recent albums. If anyone can bring out the best in him (in the absence of David Briggs), Crazy Horse can....

The Flying Scotsman.

At 7/28/2012 08:52:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

I think High Flying Bird deserves an encore performance before a LIVE audience ...

At 7/28/2012 09:32:00 PM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

I'm not even sure why I came off as critical about my experience listening to my vinyl copy of Americana. I believe that my system is about as good as it gets at least to eliminate that variable. It's a Kenwood 9600 receiver with dual 200 watt amplifiers per channel for a total of 400 watts ( unlike the current digital surround sound units that boast up to 1000 watt's ), my unit is a legit power house that I purchased in the mid seventies in which I listened to Zuma through the day it was released. I listened through a pair of AKG K-240 Headphones which used to be the 'standard of the industry' used by producers in most studios. I'm not completely slamming the record. It is still an entirely different listening experience compared to what I was exposed to prior to receiving my LP. I've heard some pretty bad responses from other folks saying how Brigg's wouldn't have allowed Pegi to sing on Neil's songs and other nonsense. While we all have heard the stories of how Brigg's was one of the few in Neil's camp who could get away with being critical of Neil's efforts, there was a reason for that. David Brigg's was one of the few who 'got it' when it came to Neil making music with the Horse and coined the phrase 'when you think you stink'. Although it may not be fair nor accurate to say that the crazy Horse sound was lost when Brigg's checked out, you can't dismiss the fact that he was at the helm of the board when all of the classic records were produced. He set the standard pretty high so it's only natural now that whenever another NY & CH record is released people are going to wonder what it would have sounded like had David turned the knobs to his satisfaction according to whatever it was that he heard in the music. Some have called it arrogance, but when asked he said that the only stuff that Neil ever did worthwhile was when he played with Crazy Horse and when it was produced by himself. He was one of Neil's biggest fans and supporters much to the disdain of CSN who never did 'get it' when Neil worked with the Horse. So as for the mix on the Americana vinyl record, I know this much. Had David Brigg's produced and mixed it, I wouldn't be questioning the end results. He was as blown away by Neil's guitar as the rest of us and no way would it have been 'buried in the mix'.

At 7/29/2012 03:24:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...


I can only guess that someone would have approved the test pressings before the vinyl went to print. Maybe we should try to rule out any obvious problems before we all start assuming the problem exists on the vinyl itself.

Do other good sounding records still sound good through this set up? Does the album still sound weak through your speakers? What does the CD sound like through the same system?

The CD version has balls, with both guitars very prominent in the mix.


At 7/30/2012 03:51:00 AM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

Unknown, before I become to critical in my analysis of the mix behind the record or my system in general it may be a good idea to hear from the experiences of other 'Neilophiles' out there. It has been brought to my attention of late that both the LP and my system may be just fine. The defect could very well be somewhere between the headphone speakers and my brain as a result of 40 yrs of listening to NY & CH at somewhere around 11 on the volume controls ? ya think?

At 7/30/2012 10:32:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks BC for the rundown.

Know the feeling. We think we sustained some serious ear damage during the WELD tour in 91.
Feedback was back.

And now, feedback will be back this week on 8/3.

At 7/30/2012 11:53:00 AM, Blogger Old Black said...


I concur with your evaluation (or you concur with mine ?) - I am listening my Americana vinyl on a Bang and Olefson through a Kyocera receiver from the mid 80's and recently reconed Dalquist speakers.

It ain't the system, it's the mix and master.

FYI most companies do a CD master, an MP3 master and if doing vinyl, a vinyl master. The mix affects the mastering process. Much of what is done in mastering is EQ and compression/limiting. Neil transfers his tape to ProTools and it is mastered in digital form. The frequency responses in vinyl and CD are different.

I suspect that the less than great sound on the vinyl might be the result of impromper mastering for the medium. It lacks sparkle and especially Neil's guitar lacks definition.

I wonder if Neil listened to the Vinyl master before allowing it to be released. If not, he should be firing someone's ass.

At 7/30/2012 01:15:00 PM, Blogger ANDREW BYROM said...

Listening to the vinyl in the UK, do tend to agree that the guitar is not 'stage center' in the mix. I wouldn't quite describe it as buried though. If anything the vocals and drums seem to come through the most. Regardless the vinyl master pisses all over the download I got off iTunes. The thump and movement of air on Tom Dula is just great. Personally I love this album and wish I was over in America for the shows this week. You lucky people.

At 7/31/2012 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Old Black said...


The bass and kick are overwhelming everything else. Too much of the available headroom is low frequency (not sub but low).

Did Neil mix this himself (and did he listen to it in different environments and on different systems for having it mastered>)

At 7/31/2012 05:32:00 PM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

... And it's common knowledge that Neil's hearing isn't all it used to be either .... maybe us old rockers are going to need an entirely different format altogether ... some kind of 'analog hearing aid's ??

At 7/31/2012 10:59:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Sometimes it looks like Nei has his eyes closed in rhe that photo. Maybe I need LASIK surgery.

At 8/02/2012 07:44:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

My Blu-Ray FINALLY showed up yesterday!!! Now I have to go out today and buy a Blu-Ray player. lol


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