After The Gold Rush, like peanut butter goes with jelly. Each is fine on its own, but incredibly satisfying to hear back-to-back.
“Out On The Weekend” begins with a standard chord change, similar to “Down By The River”, but as soon as the steel guitar kicks in (and get used to it—Ben Keith played with Neil up to his dying day) it goes somewhere else entirely. This song as a whole develops a story and a picture—he’s packing it in, buying a pick-up and leaving town but can’t stop thinking about her. The harmonica solo tries to put across what he can’t seem to say. The title track is very country and nice to sing along with; it’s clear why this album was such a middle-of-the-road success. “A Man Needs A Maid” has a pretty piano line, but possibly too personal, since he actually did see a movie and fell in love with the actress. From the London Symphony Orchestra, the trip to “Heart Of Gold” is a pleasant transition. (This song sat in the middle of “Maid” in its earliest live performances, and works much better on its own.) He’s still searching, even if at 26 he wasn’t so much getting old as outliving some of his contemporaries. “Are You Ready For The Country?” sounds like a threat, but the performance just barely qualifies as country. This recording fits the photo of the band in the barn on the album cover, and is another Neil tune that’s a verse too short and fades too soon.
“Old Man” is gorgeous, and you don’t have to be 24 to appreciate it. With its symphonic “bam, BAM” introduction, “There’s A World” doesn’t really make sense or fit. “Alabama” seems to be cut from the same cloth as “Southern Man”—nice backup from Crosby and Stills here. “The Needle And The Damage Done” would make a lot more sense within a few years when he’d record, shelve and then release a whole album about drug abuse and his poor junkie friends. The applause cuts right into the first crashing chord of “Words”. The different time changes keep you stumbling while you try to tap along with it. Anyone who calls this a country album obviously hasn’t listened to the whole thing.
Harvest is another true satisfier, especially in the context of everything else he’d done in the same three-year period. It became a hit on the back of “Heart Of Gold”, and perhaps only half of those initiated would keep up with him for the next forty years. It would be hard enough to follow him for the next five.
Neil Young Harvest (1972)—4½