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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Comment of the Moment: NPR's First Listen: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real, 'The Visitor'

Based on a few "First Listens", fans have a number of thoughts on Neil Young & Promise Of The Real's new album 'The Visitor'.

Here is the TW Comment of the Moment on NPR's First Listen: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real, 'The Visitor' by Scotsman:
"I'll wait until the record is released next week before listening." - Me.

Well, that resolution lasted about 2 minutes. Ha! And of course, first impressions can be misleading, especially with challenging or deep songs. There's more to the picture than meets the eye. It's important to be aware of that.

I'd been looking forward to this record for some time. The two sample tracks (Children Of Destiny and Already Great) didn't exactly blow me away, but the flash of inspiration was there. It just needed to be mined a little deeper. Both felt a little sparse, but were performed well and featured well-arranged backing from POTR. But of course, these songs are just isolated pieces of the jigsaw. They tell us as much about The Visitor as say, Mother Earth does about Ragged Glory.

And just like Peace Trail (an album it shares much in common with), this record is high on fun sounds and vivid colours. That's the first thing I noticed, in both the music and the lyrics. Lyrics which, incidentally, once again see Neil employing the approach I championed months ago: write at greater length, see what happens, see where it takes you. Some verses fly, some fall, and in between flashes of magic happen. Observations and feelings begin to emerge and then take form, to be developed. Which is the whole point; for an artist who has on recent albums so clearly struggled to get into that flow of lyric writing.

And this record isn't always the easiest of listens: the most accessible thing here is Children Of Destiny. The road goes on, getting more rocky with every passing milestone. Despite the colorful and delicate song arrangements, this one is as inaccessible as they get. Choruses are sparse, verses are long, arrangements sprawl around like overhanging trees. This is not a vista to be wowed by; more a jungle that needs to be grappled with to be fully enjoyed.

Other observations? This music has a great spaghetti-western feel to it: in the lyrics, the theatrical vocal delivery, the sparse and spooky musical backing. The rib-tickling creepiness of Carnival. It all combines to give the album a coherent musical theme; except perhaps Children Of Destiny, which itself feels like a Visitor from another album. Promise Of The Real sound fine throughout, playing to their strengths rather than trying too hard to be something they are not. The end result is an engaging musical soundscape where Neil Young generally succeeds in rising to the surface.

I love the sound of Neil's electric guitar, (as always), but I sometimes found myself wishing it had more presence. On Stand Tall, Neil's octave-divided guitar sounds so sublime that it begs to be cranked up in the mix, Eldorado-style; just like his distorto-harmonica did so effectively on Peace Trail. Though perhaps that is something destined for the next Crazy Horse record (and of course, there will always be a next Crazy Horse record).

Will this go down as Neil's "best album in 20 years" (Lukas Nelson)? Only if you completely ignore Greendale and Psychedelic Pill, would be my guess at this point in time. But this new one is certainly one to pay some attention to, to award some of your time. Despite the laid-back arrangements I do feel a sense of urgency on this record, which is always a good thing where Neil is involved: because he tends to rise to the occasion and cram a bit more substance in.

Of course, there will be some suggestion that this is Neil's "last" original album. In the same way that Dylan's ominously-titled "Tempest" raised a few eyebrows. Both artists realise they are likely to be closer to the end than the beginning. But to make an end is to make a beginning, and perhaps the most striking thing about The Visitor is that it sees Neil Young continuing to try something new, to plough new ground.

I've already enjoyed and been surprised by this album; as a complete piece it hasn't blown me away on first listen (no cause for concern; not all albums are intended to do that), and I'm looking forward to hearing it again and seeing what else I discover.

Thanks -- as always -- Scotsman!

More comments on NPR's First Listen: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real, 'The Visitor'.

‘The Visitor’
by Neil Young + Promise of the Real

Neil Young + Promise of the Real new album "The Visitor" is to be released on December 1. Pre-order here

(Please shop locally & independently. But if you can't, we appreciate your supporting Thrasher's Wheat by clicking this link. Thank you!!!)

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At 11/27/2017 12:11:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Good thoughts as always Scots. The more I listen, the more this album reminds me of parts of Greendale and Sleeps With Angels, two of my favorites (and I believe yours as well).

Here's a review from American Songwriter (that I also posted on another thread):
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In the recent past, Neil Young’s newest releases tended to be either gimmicky or strictly bound by some self-imposed restrictions. The Visitor, his collaboration with Promise Of The Real, is broad and all-encompassing. If there is one unifying factor, it’s that the subject matter can be roughly described as Young’s unflinching look at the state of the world, in all its abject beauty and squandered promise. Don’t call it a comeback, but damn if it doesn’t feel like one.

First of all, Young has found collaborators who have allowed him to deftly roam over stylistic borders and back again. On the harder numbers, Promise Of The Real follow Young ably through gritty R&B (“Stand Tall”), anthemic rock (“Children Of Destiny”), and territory hard to even describe (“Carnival,” which sounds like a big top stranded in a desert wasteland.) And when Young gets quiet and meditative, the band knows how to support him with lovely touches without getting in the way.

Young uses some of the harder-rocking tracks as a pulpit to attack the Oval Office; about the nicest thing he calls President Trump is a “game show host.” But the focus is more about giving a pep talk to the American citizens. The excellent lead track “Already Great,” which mixes fuzzed-out glory with dreamy refrains, provides the perspective of a Canadian who views his Southern neighbors with empathy and affection. “Children Of Destiny” combines fist-pumping exhortations with quiet orchestral verses fearing the worst-case scenario that occurs when citizens stand back and stay quiet.

Even on the shorter filler songs, Young sounds like he’s having a blast. The Visitor also makes room for a pair of rambling acoustic epics. “Almost Always” lopes along between striking personal and political observations, while “Forever” takes ten-and-a-half gorgeous minutes to lay out Young’s Utopian visions and environmental concerns. “I really want to make a difference,” he sings. As if he hasn’t already. As if he hasn’t done it again.
"Take my advice
don't listen to me"


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