Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Neil Young 50: A Letter Home

In the same year he announced the Kickstarter campaign for a new audio platform that he claimed would play music in quality far superior to MP3s and CDs, Neil released an album recorded in a do-it-yourself booth, direct to scratchy disc. A Letter Home is another album of covers—his second in two years—recorded quickly and simply, leaning mostly on coffeehouse favorites from his formative days.
His Canadian twang is more pronounced on the opening greeting to his mother (now presumably reunited in Heaven with her ex-husband, aka Neil’s father) in which he gets in a plug for saving the planet. Then he starts singing: Phil Ochs’ “Changes”, “Girl From The North Country” as arranged by Dylan, “Needle Of Death” by Bert Jansch (previously appropriated for “Ambulance Blues”), Canadian icon Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain”, and the legendary “Crazy”, made famous by Patsy Cline and giving Willie Nelson some royalties.
He begins side two (the album was, after all, both recorded and released on a record first, before the CD and digital versions) with another shout-out to Mom, and that’s about where the wheels come off. His jaunty piano isn’t the best vehicle for Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe”, but it does add variety. Then studio owner Jack White takes over the keys, plinking and singing along on possibly the worst-ever version of “On The Road Again”, sending more money Willie’s way. “If You Could Read My Mind” is another song that originated well after Neil was a household name (Springsteen’s “My Hometown” being the third) and is a faithful rendition of another Gordon Lightfoot song. (Here’s hoping for an electric “Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” on the next covers collection.) “Since I Met You Baby” puts Neil back on the piano, and he and Jack do their best Everly Brothers for “I Wonder If I Care As Much”.
Throughout A Letter Home, one can hear echoes of Neil’s own work, and it helps to have some familiar melodies. The rating below applies to its general listenability in the context of his entire career. Neil fans have to have it, and will enjoy it. Everyone else can carry on as they please.

Neil Young A Letter Home (2014)—2

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