Friday, June 20, 2008

Neil Young 4: Harvest

Harvest goes with its true predecessor, 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 begin 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; even Neil agreed it was “overblown. “Alabama” seems to be cut from the same cloth as “Southern Man”, with even more finger-pointing and nice backup from Crosby and Stills. “The Needle And The Damage Done”, recorded live, 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 several years; it would be hard enough to follow him for the next five.

By the time of its 50th anniversary, Neil’s own Archives mission was competing with what the labels wanted to do; he’d already released several “official bootlegs” of shows from 1971. But because Harvest was considered A Big Deal, it got more than the two outtakes stuck on the end of the After The Gold Rush anniversary set. For one, it was given a nice package with a book including liner notes and pretty photos from Joel Bernstein. Two DVDs were included—one containing a new film called Harvest Time that documented many of the sessions, incorporating some material that had already been in Journey Through The Past, the other the footage from his much-booted BBC-TV performance in February 1971. The audio from this also got its own CD in the set, with each intro rap banded separately, as did a three-song EP (because it’s SO important to match the vinyl component of these sets precisely) of Harvest Outtakes. Previously exclusive to the Archives site, “Dance Dance Dance” features Tony Joe White on lead guitar, and “Bad Fog Of Loneliness” appears to be the same one from the first Archives box, but thankfully “Journey Through The Past” is a previously unheard alternate take. Granted, all of the audio, old and new, could have been squeezed onto a single CD, and surely both DVDs could have been combined on one disc too, but that’s the way these things go with golden anniversaries. (And a few months later an otherwise unheard take of “See The Sky About To Rain” was added to his website; while nice to hear, it should have been in the set we’d already bought.)

Neil Young Harvest (1972)—
2022 50th Anniversary Edition: same as 1972, plus 11 extra tracks (and 2 DVDs)

1 comment:

  1. Review of this classic still stands after all these years. Long may we run. Onto 100th anniversary!