Monday, September 8, 2008

Neil Young 11: American Stars ‘N Bars

Everybody’s Dummy will take the daring stance that American Stars ‘N Bars is nowhere near as good as Chrome Dreams, the shelved album it replaced. Oddly enough, all of side two of American Stars ‘N Bars was originally on Chrome Dreams in roughly the same order. And because the original lineup includes songs that would become key elements of later classics, its cancellation may prove Neil’s instincts were correct. With any luck the missing songs will all surface one way or another one day.
None of the hokey country songs on side one really stand out. “The Old Country Waltz” starts lazily, and “Saddle Up The Palomino” and “Bite The Bullet” (pornographic references notwithstanding) are both pretty dopey. “Hey Babe” has a pleasant lilt that would improve on his next album, and “Hold Back The Tears” is especially disappointing once you’ve heard the original take from Chrome Dreams.
Side two presents an odd mix of songs. “Star Of Bethlehem” is a Homegrown outtake that had fans wondering if the rest of that shelved album could be as good. (That this album teases us about two unreleased projects is just cruel.) “Will To Love” is a one-off homemade tape transformed into a big production in the studio; as a result it’s incredibly hard to hear. “Like A Hurricane” is still one of his absolute best, and no amount of Classic Rock Radio airplay will ever diminish it. Repetitive as it is, it’s always a live crowd-pleaser, but this original released take is still the benchmark for all the others. While not from the same sessions, “Homegrown” is the lost title track to that lost album, and undermines our desire to hear what’s left in the can. In this context it’s pro-pot, but he’s managed to make it more of a patriotic anthem for his Farm Aid activities. (For some reason, the same take ends both sides of the cassette version, giving the false impression that it was intentional.)
It’s a shame that this album is so underwhelming, considering everything available that was left off. It’s a minor, less interesting piece of the puzzle, with its best two tracks about to appear on a satisfying compilation. It’s still one of his lesser releases, but not as dull a listen as has been previously thought.

Neil Young American Stars ‘N Bars (1977)—3

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