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Sunday, April 16, 2023

Comment of the Moment by Scotsman: Neil Young's Original Bootleg Series Release: ‘Somewhere Under The Rainbow”

 Under The Rainbow* - Nov 3*, 1973
Neil Young's Original Bootleg Series Release #6
Our Comment of the Moment is from Neil Young's Original Bootleg Series Releases: ‘Somewhere Under The Rainbow” & ‘High Flyin’ by the fearless and faithful Scotsman:

According to folklore, go to the end of the rainbow, and you’ll find a pot of gold.

The gold is imaginary, of course.

But that’s okay. Because life’s pleasures are all in the mind, anyway — one way or another.

I think that’s a particularly useful “lens” to look through when appreciating (not “enjoying”: that would be the wrong word) an album like Somewhere Under the Rainbow.

If you come looking for showroom sound-quality… you ain’t gonna find it. Disappointment looms. Instead, the best way to approach this album is the same way we should approach all audience-tapes — as a potent tonic (and *stimulant*) for our imaginations.

Look for the “story” in the experience, and it no longer matters that the sound quality is decidedly rustic. In fact, in this particular instance, it may even be a good thing. Because the listener’s imagination has to work that bit harder. It has to actively dig in, get down in the trenches, instead of having the experience served up on a silver platter.

Enjoying an audience recording is not an effortless experience. It requires active *engagement*. And engagement is more important to enjoyment than sound quality.

Listening to this tape, our minds wander away to the Rainbow Theatre in London. It’s a drizzly evening—we imagine—in November 1973. Everything around us is in black-and-white, and our eyes are blurred — it’s as if we’ve mislaid our glasses, or contact lenses. Or perhaps we’ve just had too much to drink… just like the musicians on-stage.

Without being able to see clearly, we instead start to dream. The shackles of reality are tossed aside. We hear the sound of Ralph’s drums bouncing off the mahogany walls (I’m imagining they’re mahogany). Ben Keith’s steel guitar seems to bathe us in tequila at the same time it stabs us in the gut.

Neil Young isn’t quite visible. We can hear him, we can feel his soul communicating with us. But this isn’t a 4k video — It’s a rough-around-the-edges audience tape. And of course, that’s not at all the biting criticism it would read as if not preceded by the previous nine paragraphs.

In an ideal word, of course, perhaps we’d have a recording of this show that combined the best of both worlds: increased clarity *and* license-to-dream atmosphere, simultaneously.

But it’s important to note that it’s impossible to fully go to both extremes at once. Because when a dream becomes crystal-clear, it’s no longer identifiable as a dream at all. And music is all about dreaming.

Somewhere Under the Rainbow will be ignored by some because of its lo-fi sound quality. But being forced to steer clear of extreme clarity (because a better quality tape doesn’t exist) doesn’t do this record as much harm as we might expect. It’s an album that does everything it’s supposed to do, for anybody who cares enough to *lean into* the experience instead of shying away.

The gritty razor’s edge of the performance is sharpened and “pumped up” to danger levels by the overloaded recording. It’s a case of the art being in sync with the medium it’s presented on — causing the medium itself to become part of the art.


Back Cover w/ Bruce Berry
 Under The Rainbow* - Nov 3*, 1973 
Neil Young's Original Bootleg Series Release #6


How about the music itself? Ask a Neil Young fan what Tonight’s the Night is all about, and maybe he’ll reply “Bruce Berry”. (Bruce is mentioned by name in the first two words of the title track’s lyrics, and his photo is on the back cover of Somewhere Under the Rainbow.)

That’s true, of course. But there’s more to it than that. Tonight’s the Night is about the realisation that “all that glitters is not gold” (Don’t Be Denied) and “Everything is cheaper than it looks”.

And even more than that, it’s about Danny Whitten.

Danny’s death overshadows this entire period — from Tuscaloosa to Times Fades Away, to the Roxy, to a place under the rainbow where the musicians on stage ignite their sorrows in burning liquor.

30 years later, Neil would write Leave the Driving and Carmichael. These songs have always felt like blood relatives of Tonight’s the Night — direct descendants.

What connects them? Drugs, death, mourning, grief, and guilt.

Maybe your opinion parallels mine: many of Neil’s fans need to work a little harder at understanding exactly why Times Fades Away is Neil’s least favourite record. Because once we do that, we can see why the move from arenas to the Roxy was so cathartic, and why Tonight’s the Night is infused with heartwarming sadness whilst Tuscaloosa is merely depressed.

The song at the heart of all this is Don’t Be Denied. Written the day after Danny’s death, the song has an inspiring element to it *and* a tortured element. Why? Because the singer believes he can save others, and maybe even save himself. But he knows it’s too late to save Danny.

(As outsiders with a healthy distance from the subject, we can instantly recognise two things: Neil Young was not personally responsible for Danny Whitten’s death, but must have felt like he was for a long, long time.)

At the Rainbow, Don’t be Denied grabs us by the throat *and* keels over backwards in a pool of tequila — simultaneously. And that description kind of sums this record as a whole. It’s edgier than Roxy… less controlled, less of a laid-back party, and more of an intense exorcising of demons.

The floodgates open, and we pick through the mess.

I’ve always had a soft spot for audience recordings. Because they have character. A well-mixed professional recording will often have more wow-factor, nuance and detail, but only the best (including more than a few of the concerts featured on the NYA timeline) can match them for magic.

I like to hear the room the music was made in — the haunting reverb (though not as artificial-sounding and tunnel-like as on Noise and Flowers).

Most of all, I like music that inspires the listener to become involved.

And Somewhere Under the Rainbow does that, in abundance. Oh, It’s a scary record, for sure — and I’m glad not all of Neil’s record sound like this. But I’m also glad this one does.

And listen to Neil’s voice floating in the air on Human Highway, conjuring a few ghosts along with it, and you may even charitably decide that the quality of this album isn’t just acceptable: it’s actually the definitive document of a complex, captivating period that demands a close look, and a empathetic listen.


Thanks so much for the visit Scotsman!  Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, sharing your thoughts here on TW on the latest by Neil is certainly a welcome omen and portends an auspicious Spring.

We've been enjoying your writings over on Patreon as well and encourage other rustie grains to visit and peruse.

More on Neil Young's Original Bootleg Series Releases: ‘Somewhere Under The Rainbow” & ‘High Flyin’.

‘High Flyin’ & ‘Somewhere Under The Rainbow”  
Neil Young's Original Bootleg Series Releases
(More on Neil Young's Original Bootleg Series Releases: ‘Somewhere Under The Rainbow” & ‘High Flyin’)

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At 4/18/2023 02:35:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Scotsman you have a gift and you have done the hard work. It shows in the consistently excellent prose and the depth of insight into what makes all this work. To your phrase "heartwarming sadness" I would add (not any criticism of your writing or ideas): a merciless destruction of the usual sentimentality that glues itself to sadness. Sadness as sadness. No conjuring tears.

At 4/18/2023 02:51:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/18/2023 02:54:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Once again Scotsman nails it. I was planning on sharing my thoughts on these two releases, but I honestly couldn’t have said it any better. Thanks Scotsman for sharing your feedback, and I couldn’t agree more on every single point you have made.

Peace 🙏

At 4/18/2023 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Dan, share your thoughts anyway!

At 4/18/2023 06:03:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Dan- Scots only reviewed Rainbow . So, yes, please add thoughts on Ducks.

At 4/19/2023 04:06:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Thanks guys for your characteristically generous comments.

Looking forward to reading your comments, Dan — though I appreciate your kind words. And Abner, very apt point about "mercilessly destruction". I think that's spot on.


At 4/19/2023 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

The Ducks : It’s important to note that until now I had no previous exposure to this particular lineup in the Neil Young universe. I have never been a big collector of bootlegs except for The Beatles, although I did own I’m Happy That Y’all Came Down. So I have been curious about this release since it was announced, and had no preconceptions on what it would be like.

My first listen was sadly marred by distractions, so I wasn’t able to really focus much, but my first impression was a tad perplexed. Obviously I could hear and feel Neil’s guitar, but he clearly wasn’t the main focus. The other three voices were unfamiliar and frankly not that captivating. It felt like a well oiled bar band who were relaxed and having a good time. So my initial reaction was almost dismissive.

The next day I had more time so I started over, and played both discs without interruption. As everyone here is aware there have been so many NY albums that have been released that require repeated listening to allow soaking in, and first impressions can be misleading. That’s the case here with The Ducks

These three guys are definitely skilled musicians who clearly enjoy a loose environment to play in, and Neil was obviously relaxed and confident. The vocals don’t jump out of the speakers and grab your attention, and these guys don’t have the vocal qualities that place them in the same level that Neil’s does. They aren’t bad vocalists, they’re just unremarkable. That being the case, they certainly don’t mar the proceedings, offering up some nicely crafted songs that are musical and catchy.

The obvious highlight is Neil’s performance throughout the entire set, and his guitar work is absolutely stellar. As a whole I found myself really impressed with the chemistry between these four gentlemen, and I enjoyed finally getting to hear what the Ducks were all about. That being said, I don’t need it on vinyl, because it isn’t a title I’ll put on frequently. It certainly deserves to be part of the archive, and an essential part of Neil’s career.

This is a fun performance from a group of talented people who are clearly having a good time, and deserve to get the recognition they obviously deserve. A great addition to the NY cannon, but probably not essential to the casual fan.

Peace 🙏

At 4/19/2023 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I just read reviews of the two albums in American Songwriter: reasons for sticking around these parts. Both Scotsman and Dan far outdo the cliched reviews in the national publication.

Best stuff on Neil is right here, even of we are "fans."

At 4/20/2023 04:25:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

Like Dan said, I don’t feel the need to own the Ducks album. As long as I can hear choice cuts on NYA, I’m good.

Under the Rainbow: the band sounds fierce but hearing it right now as I am, thru ear buds, the sound is poor.

Comments on sound quality of Under the Rainbow?

Your Brother Alan in Seattle


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