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Friday, May 16, 2014

A Letter Home by Neil Young: "So archaic, it’s cutting edge"

As we've been reporting, a pretty diverse reaction to Neil Young's The Tonight Show appearance. Yes, it was unprecedented. Yes, it was pretty cool to see Neil, Jack White and Jimmy Fallon having a good time with their old/new toy.

But at the end of the day, what about the music?

Yes, what about the music? Or maybe more importantly -- what about the intent of the artist being true to his message and muse?

Well, whatever you do, don't call A Letter Home a "covers album", as Neil Young explained to Billboard:
"That's a term I really don't like, covers.

That misses the point of what the record is. It's actually more of a piece of performance art. It's actual songs. It's actually the performance of a song and the essence of a song. That's what it's about."
From a review on Restless and Real - Words and sounds from a shrinking world | A Letter Home by Douglas Heselgrave:
‘A Letter Home’ is pure; there’s very little show biz involved.

Maybe the most important thing the record communicates is that with a little practice, we could all learn to play these songs. Most of them don’t have more than three chords, and almost every Canadian of a certain generation could sing them – maybe even just as well - off the top of their heads with a little reminding and encouragement. And, maybe that’s part of the point. ‘A Letter Home’ dials down the mystique of the rock star culture and puts music back where it belongs – as an expression of life, joy in a shared experience, the simple pleasures of coming together with friends and family to sing. It’s so radical that it’s simple.

To paraphrase something Young once said about another album, ‘A Letter Home’ is so archaic, it’s cutting edge. The point he’s making is not complicated. The world is out of control and part of the reason is that people won’t put away their screens and talk to each other. Embedded in its simple grooves, ‘A Letter Home’ encourages us to throw out a lot of our useless shit, get the guitar out of the attic, tune it, start humming, sing, think of all the good things in life and send a letter home.

Thanks Neil!
Thanks Doug!

So there you go. A Letter Home - radical in its simplicity in these bewildering complex times. Maybe not what we wanted but just what we needed.

And that's OK.

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At 5/16/2014 10:25:00 AM, Blogger setlistthief said...

I'll start with a disclaimer: I have not heard the album yet, so I won't comment on it. But I have thought a lot about this current phase of Neil's career.

We all know his recent live performances include songs by other composers well known and less familiar...Ochs, Lightfoot, Jansch. He also broke out "Thrasher," an autobiographical song of incredible beauty and scope and simplicity. And then you go back a couple years to "Americana" and it's as if Neil is coming to grips with, and claiming, his legacy by surrounding himself with the music of his own peers and idols.

It is a fascinating process to watch, and be a part of. Neil's own songwriting can feel so easy-the tunes are so hummable, the hooks so infectious. We've all heard "Heart of Gold" a gazillion times, but that Em to D is so simple and so immediately recognizable, it's become a permanent feature of the American musical landscape. That's what great and best about Folk music.

Neil's a folk singer. Nothing more, nothing less and I can't think of any higher compliment for the man. He stands shoulder to shoulder with those folk singers who inspired him and who he himself interprets. We are so lucky to live in the age of Neil.

At 5/16/2014 11:15:00 AM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

Thanks setlistthief.

Have to agree with you on where Neil's coming from and going to in this phase.

You always here about folks going back to their "roots". Well, with Neil, the guy goes back to not only his roots, but the dirt beneath it, as well, the rocks and branches and leaves.

We called it his "real, true Journey thru the Past".

Of course, the amusing part of all of this is that it comes during the PONO launch and some folks find this all a cruel joke.

As for us, as the days fly past, we try not to lose our grasp but fuse it in the sun.


At 5/16/2014 12:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This review is very well put. Wish I could find ways to express like that & like Neil for that matter. I forgot to thank you Thrasher for making sure we didn't miss Neil the other night on the tube. Our network TV stations were running 2 hours late due to storm coverage. Got to bed at 2:30 am, but with a smile & a music machine to research the next day. some older folks I work with remembered them. And the songs of course!


At 5/16/2014 02:36:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

There is a town in North Ontario.......

....and in my mind I still need a place to go.....

At 5/16/2014 04:16:00 PM, Anonymous Brian Nash said...

I'll start with this "disclaimer"--I've heard the album and it's crap. Most of us Neil fans have heard live versions of these songs. "Changes" from the Farm Aid performance is one example of Neil's incredible ability to put even more poignancy into a song already loaded with it. But this stuff? C'mon, we don't need an artificial layer of "aging" to make the songs better. The static only makes the music less, not more, accessible. Very similar to the "broom" on "Harvest Moon" that made the song sound like it was from a marred vinyl recording. In other words, a gimmick. This record, as I said earlier, sucks. And it does so because the artist decided to put an artificial construct between the music and the listener.

At 5/16/2014 06:57:00 PM, Blogger Thos said...

Well I haven't heard it yet.

But didn't Le Noise work really well despite, or because of, the artificial construct between the music and the listener?


At 5/16/2014 09:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

throwaway album, right up there with Americana.

If anyone created similar albums they'd be described as a Holy Turd. But it's Neil so it, uh, cool.


Archives 2 can't come fast enough.

At 5/16/2014 10:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to the last anonymous poster AMEM
if CSN or Dylan or Bruce put out something like this it would be called for what it is a piece of crap but because it is Neil its' cool

that is the how most people in the music industry talk about Neil in private that he gets a free pass on just about everything he does why cause he's Neil Young. Americana sounded like a third string garage band with a case of the runs A letter home could have been good, there were some great songs.some great performances Instead of leaving well enough alone and let the songs stand on their own Neil chose to resort to a gimmick to promote the recod.
Despite all the hype and promotion this is going to be a commercial flop for Neil

Now perhaps some good news it has been reported ( but not on thrashers)that the CSNY
boxset will be released on July 8th. Apparently this comes straight from Graham Nash hopefully Neil has signed off on this. otherwise its another false alarm of an impending release for this boxset.

At 5/17/2014 01:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

".... he gets a free pass on just about everything he does why cause he's Neil Young."

Haven't had a laugh that good in a while ... Thank you anon.


At 5/17/2014 08:05:00 AM, Blogger setlistthief said...

Thanks, TW

I love this site-such a great place for me to stay up to date on all things Neil and add my 2 cents every now and then.

You always attract the most colorful commenters-giving Neil a "free pass" by noting what a piece of crap this new album is. Love him or hate him, Neil Young brings out the passion in us all.

At 5/18/2014 06:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But didn't Le Noise work really well despite, or because of, the artifical construct between the music and the listener?".

No. Daniel's production added some interesting sounds, but couldn't make up for the mediocrity of the new songs being performed (songs that were very hastily written to demo the new performing style. Hence vapid tracks such as Angry World and Sign Of Love). This time around, the songs are much better, but the booth adds nothing positive to the experience.

Would Ragged Glory have been a better album with a load of crackling on top? How about On The Beach? Or Sleeps With Angels? Or...etc. Okay, it must just be these songs, then. I can understand that. And yet the live versions (minus crackling) have been so obviously superior.

I'm not against the idea of the booth per se, I just think it's a waste of time and effort recording an album in it. The result is incredibly dull, and must surely highlight the biggest gap in quality between an album and concurrent live performances since the 1980's.

The Flying Scotsman.

At 5/18/2014 06:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...A Letter Home also is a good argument against the need for Pono. Go and listen to anything on Rust Radio (which is all in mp3 quality) and it will sound AMAZING in comparison

. Besides, isn't the feeling in the song what really matters, not sound quality?

That's what A Letter Home is trying to tell you: at the same time Neil is urging you to buy yet another new player (that is destined to become a paperweight in a year or two).

Search for 24/192 or Pono on google and the first thing you will come across are very convincing arguments against their usefulness. A Letter Home, in it's own peculiar fashion, adds its support to these arguments.

At 5/18/2014 08:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geeez Thrasher, I thought I made a pretty good point but I guess you didn't like my potty mouth so you deleted my post?! What Would Neil Do? I don't think he'd practice censorship?! I can say "fuck the doubters" all day but don't slip in that Shite word. Nah, can't be having that kind of talk around here.

But it's your board. If that's how you look at the world, fine. I sure wouldn't want to mess up the fine cheese that's on display here daily.

I'd still like to thank all the people who bought the deluxe box set. Neil has a lifestyle to maintain and I'm glad you were there for him.


Old Neg

At 5/18/2014 07:02:00 PM, Anonymous Louise said...

Here´s an interview with Neil on The Huffington Post:
- ¨A Letter Home: A Conversation with Neil Young¨, by Mike Ragogna

At 5/18/2014 07:16:00 PM, Anonymous Louise said...

M.Ragogna: Do you think there will be more letters home? Are you intrigued to do more of these kinds of projects?

Neil Young: You know, the future's a huge, gigantic place. I have no idea what's going on out there, I'm just going to walk into it and see what happens.

MR: Well you are the master of the creative process. Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue those kinds of paths?

NY: They just have to do what they feel like doing and not listen to anybody else.

MR: Is there any guidance that these future artists might need?

NY: Inner guidance. Listen to yourself. Everybody's got their own.

MR: Cool. Is there anything in your near future that we also should be excited about?

NY: I hope so! I don't know what it is, but I'd say, "Better be ready for it."

At 5/18/2014 09:17:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

Thanks Louise!

We're so ready for it!

And we know you are too.

At 5/19/2014 07:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whats in the future for Neil? Well sales for A Letter Home are way down
in comparing sales of PP,Ameicana
or LeNoise a week before release
They were all in Amazons top 5
a week out from release. ALH is 28
on amazon. Word is getting aroud that album sucks and Neil's gimmick
has backfired

If Graham Nash is right the CSNY boxset will be in stores June 8th
Of course this set has been given numerous release dates to no avail
The ten thousand dollar question is has Neil signed off on this?
If so it is great news and means we will have a quality Neil related release this year.
Why this hasn"t been reported on this site is unusual to say the

At 5/19/2014 09:44:00 AM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

"Why this hasn"t been reported on this site is unusual to say the

OK, fair question.

Similar to NYA, at some point after dozens of false announcements, you just stop covering the topic.

That's really all. We've been talking about this boxset release date for years now and are no longer providing "speculative" updates on subject.

If we see something definitive, we'll share.

At 5/19/2014 03:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 5/20/2014 02:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazon now lists May 27 as the release date of the Letter Home CD.


At 5/20/2014 08:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It never fails to amaze me how the conversation on these pages so often turns to snarky comments on record sales, chart position and such when there is a new Neil release.

That is often supplemented by random thoughts on the machiavellian schemes behind Neil's output that are designed to "screw us over"...

Did ya ever stop to think that maybe the guy is driven by the quest for art, on his own terms and not by money, record sales or industry awards?

So what if the guy thought it would be interesting and fun for HIM to record in an old recording booth and share with the world some scratchy records that emend him of his youth. Good on him, I say.

At 5/20/2014 10:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a comment that has nothing to do with record sales or chat position:

this album is garbage. something that somebody would do as a gag and hand it out to friends.

if you pay money for this, you must have a condition and I hope you find some medication.

I'm waiting very much to see what comes from Neil in the next 12 month. And I am very interested to see if he has any gas left when he tours with the horse this summer.

But my hunch is that the slow inevitable decline may have begun with the release of ALH - seriously. Do you actually want to listen to this, ever again??

At 5/21/2014 07:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the "Snarky Comments" poster.
You must understand that Neil has to sell records to remain on a major record label such as Reprise. If you don't sell around 100,000 units per release you get dropped. Neil has a very lofty lifestyle to maintain.He needs to make a certain amount of money. I agree with you when you say well he did it for the art but I also
believe he tried to use the manner of recording as a reason to buy the album. A gimmick to get people especially the Jack white generation to say how cool and buy the record. Its a marketing ploy and
the problem is for Neil it appears to be backfiring.
The shame of it all is these are excellent songs which Neil gives very good performances in most cases. It could have been a very good album with just a little post
If Neil had used some of the live versions of these songs he played
at his solo shows it would have been a much better record and would have sold a lot more.

At 5/24/2014 05:07:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saturday Morning (Hamburg, North Germany): new NY CD in the post box and it's playing now and I Must say: it really touches me. It's so basic, It feels so warm. It feels like Neil singing to me and his mother from so far away in distance & time. This ist an outstanding album because of its simplicity! Thanks, Neil!

At 5/24/2014 04:03:00 PM, Anonymous Brian Nash said...

I recently played the Gene Clark "White Light Demos" that came out last year. What a stark difference to "A Letter Home." It's just Gene and the guitar (occasionally harmonica) and the presence of the music is immediate and outstanding. Like Neil's latest, these were just one-offs. The difference is that Clark used a studio and cared about the quality of the sound. He was, after all, looking for a label. I wish Young had taken that approach and not added interference between the listener and him.

At 5/28/2014 03:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it a truly great Neil Young record? No. Would I go and see Neil sing these songs in a live acoustic show? In a heartbeat. Does Neil give a toss about album sales? Not much sign of that here.

I doubt if there will be many takers for the Pono version of this, though.

Worth a listen or two though. Took me back to listening crappy vinyl on crappy record players and late night AM music from Radio Luxembourg and UK pirate stations. Maybe this is the new radio. Maybe this is just a great artist in the rich autumn of his career recreating the experience of his youth. Brought a tear to my eye in places and I'm happy to live in a world with Neil just doing what he wants and giving us what he thinks we need. We can take it or leave it - he doesn't care and I'm cool with that.


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