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Monday, June 24, 2024

Comment of the Moment: "Old Ways" Album by Neil Young

"Old Ways" Album by Neil Young


As the summer lull between tour legs lingers on, we bring you another Comment of the Moment.  Pivoting off a comment by Dan on the 1985 album Old Ways by Neil Young, Abner mentions the semi-obscure song "Misfits", to which Meta Rocker replied:

Misfits is in a class of its own. 

The released Old Ways album (or what NY calls Old Ways 2) sounds a bit fragmented and sketchy to me. Flickers of what could have been? I’ll be interested to hear what NYA vol 3 has to tell us about Old Ways 1. My main reservation on Neil’s “back to the country” phase is that the generic trappings are laid rather thick at times (like too muchBearnaise sauce). Granted my knowledge of country and western is not encyclopedic, but some of the songs sound like bordering on pastiche. From a writer’s POV, I understand the appeal of working with a particular genre. I also like to think I’m pretty eclectic, but not all idioms will work equally for all audiences. We all carry expectations and prejudices into the listening experience.

Mind you, cannot fault the musicianship most evident on the live International Harvesters record. Southern Pacific, Back to the Country with Rufus Thibideaux tearing it up on fiddle is one for the ages. Could (and have) listened to Grey Riders on repeat ad infinitum—that’s a good example of Neil blending his own instincts with the genre. Then again, you have Nothing is Perfect, which sounds like you accidentally changed over to watching reruns of Hee Haw.

The best parts of the Harvesters almost make me wish Neil had gone in more of a bluegrass direction. I’m thinking of tracks like Southern Pacific, Grey Riders. The Old Homestead from Hawkes & Doves would be a great fit, too. The whole first side of that album (Doves) has a creaky, William Faulkner-ish “American gothic” mood going on—aside from the three pterodactyls, which add a Kurt Vonnegut-like dash of science fantasy. “…. So it goes.”

Hope the Horse is soon back to full health.

Thanks to Dan for starting our conversation, Abner keeping it flowing and Meta Rocker doing the heavy lifting. 

We appreciate everyone's patience as we continue to await updates on LOVE EARTH Tour Leg #2 of NYCH

A Treasure
Neil Young & The International Harvesters


Here's a few more items on  the "Old Ways" album by Neil Young:

International Harvesters Tour, Costa Mesa, CA - 10/24/84
Photo by Robert Matheu

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At 6/24/2024 01:33:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I thought Neil had lost his marbles when he went on tour with the Harvesters and proclaimed he was all country all the time. Maybe he did lose his marbles, which is why he is great. He loses his marbles and is ok with lost marbles. But, like all his projects, Neil grinds on until something amazing surfaces such as the "I am now a crazy redneck" tour with these wildcat players. He is not "out of the box" he is out of his mind. But when you don't wander, you do not find.

At 6/24/2024 01:34:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

I am going to Relisten to Old Ways. My take on it from past experience is, A Treasure has tons of souls when weighed against Old Ways. Live Southern Pacific & Amber Jeanne are fantastic songs, along with Grey Riders. NYA 3 will show us a lot more. Nashville ruined so many country songs with strings & overproduction (1980’s in general) . Neil was flirting with that at times, sadly.

Your Brother Alan in Seattle

At 6/24/2024 05:07:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Neil’s excursions from the expected is part of his genius, and I am always impressed by his willingness to explore new territory. There’s a fine line between insanity and genius, and Neil has always tiptoed between the two from the beginning. When Old Ways originally came out, I was disappointed, but decades later I find it to be an honest attempt to pay homage to the cowboys of yore. It’s not perfect, but it’s honest, and that’s what matters most. The one thing no one can accuse Neil Young of, and that’s posing. Everything he’s done, he’s been totally committed. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Peace 🙏

At 6/24/2024 08:00:00 PM, Blogger herbsworld said...

Surprised no mention of Neil’s Austin City Limits taping from this time period. I had a stereo VHS recording that I copied to DVD & also did a CDr, Long before “A Treasure”. Love that ACL performance.

At 6/24/2024 08:33:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Thanks for the spotlight, Thrasher... my comments actually look neater as presented here. Whenever I post on mobile, it leaves a big empty space at the bottom for whatever reasons.

Maybe the creative process is a cycle of the artist "losing his marbles" and eventually rediscovering them elsewhere (not where he thought he left them). Or given NY's fondness for traveling and automotive metaphors, it might be more apropos to think of a journey--with any number of detours, dead ends, and u-turns along the way--taking the scenic route and occasionally missing your turnoff.

As Dan points out, NY's work is characteristically honest. That may be one reason the genre albums throw people off: during the International Harvesters, Shocking Pinks, Blue Notes, etc., it may have seemed like NY was playing a different character on each album or tour. On the surface, this rests uneasily beside an ethos of authenticity--but there's more than one way of telling the truth. I imagine each project showed some part of NY's truth at the time.

Another dimension of the Geffen years involves heavy self-awareness: a kind of meta-cognitive satire on the absurdities of the music industry, on the relationship between art and commerce. Numbers like Prisoners of Rock 'n'Roll and the Shocking Pinks' Payola Blues make it fairly explicit. Maybe even dangerously explicit if you're a record company exec. The songs are truthful. They also represent an artist's rebellion--sometimes playful, sometimes angry--against pressure to label and pigeonhole his work for marketing purposes.

At 6/25/2024 01:04:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

@ Herbsworld : Yes! Austin City Limits performance is fantastic! Rufus T on fiddle is killer with a top notch band.

Your Brother Alan in Seattle

At 6/25/2024 03:25:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

I have always loved the Neil / Willie duet of “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?” What a great song about posers!

Once an Angel is a fantastic song.

The Int’l Harvesters was a great band that we will get to know better soon on NYA3


Your Brother Alan in Seattle

At 6/25/2024 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Ok, I was joking around. I do not think Neil lost his marbles. I think he is deeply sane and driven by the music. Hence, he is curious about and motivated by the music. The only way we can find out about our capacities is to take risks. Some of us are limited by a self-consciousness in risk taking, that we will look stupid, foolish, absurd. Quite the opposite with Neil Young. He is fearless. When the dust settled on the Geffen years, we see what MR said: he turned the table. It is the music industry which will not take risks because their bottom line is the bottom line. While it is true that Neil's output was not his best, it was instead emblematic of what art and creation are all about. The creative mind is by definition restless. Interesting and revealing that when Neil emerged out of this period, his band was "The Restless." And he once again made music that pushed rock and roll forward. Go over to Scotsman's site and listen to some of the Neil and The Restless music from 1989. Just amazing. And, to seal the points, not "out of nowhere" as this was brewing throughout the struggle of the Geffen years.

At 6/26/2024 04:54:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Abner, I took your comment to be somewhat facetious, if not outright hyperbolic… I can’t remember the last time I heard someone use the phrase “lost their marbles” unironically…. but of course there’s a serious side. To that end, I don’t want to let this thread go without mentioning Landing on Water.

That album is a study in alienation and paranoia. Very stark: not just dysphoric but, at times, dystopian.

“I got an eye in the sky.”

“When night’s dark shadow falls… on the concrete canyon walls… people on the street need a place to go.”

“Behind these eyes, there walks a stranger…”

“Everyone will touch the night.”

Even the way Neil’s jagged guitar solos get buried, strangled in the mix evokes repression. It’s not a coincidence one of the heaviest cuts is called “Pressure”. The whole soundscape has a sense of almost unmanageable emotions trying to cut or burn through an enforced sterility of compression. Ironically, it may be the most “naked” Neil record of the ‘80s in spite of the synthetic sound. A lot of people just hear chintzy ‘80s synths and beats—I hear the seeds of Young and the Restless, Rockin’ in the Free World.

The angelic boys’ choir set against the backdrop quasi-futuristic, mechanized, coldly metallic tone is a stroke of mad genius. As is often the case with such bold choices, people either love it or hate it. To appreciate Landing on Water, you need to come to terms with its overall sound. Actually, I think it’s a more consistent and even record (track for track) than ‘Life’.

Trans and LOW are my two favorite Geffen records. Imperfect but fascinating. Then again, I’ve always enjoyed novelty and experimentation. My favorite Bowie is mostly the stuff produced with Brian Eno. Maybe my tastes are consistent after all, or maybe I just haven’t identified the “X factor” common to the works I’m most drawn to.

At 6/26/2024 06:21:00 PM, Blogger herbsworld said...

@Alan: Agreed! Slightly left of topic: My dearly departed mother left behind a treasure trove of cd’s I would not have otherwise sought out on my own-some. Among the most played of the bunch: Willie Nelson’s Revolutions of Time. Specifically disc 2 of the 3 cd set. All duets. All Awesome! Btw, whilst browsing wikipedia to get proper info I was floored to learn Willie has 100 releases! True that a lot are re- packaged greatest hits collections. Fact still remains Willie has had a very productive career.
Anyway, If you dug “Are There Anymore Real Cowboys”…


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