Friday, March 20, 2009

Neil Young 23: Ragged Glory and Weld

What to do when riding high? Time to call the Horse! Barely a year after Freedom, Neil was back again, with an album the likes of Kurt Loder immediately branded as essential. Nearly two decades on, the jury’s still hung as to just how essential Ragged Glory is, but there’s no mistaking that it’s loud.
“Country Home” starts us off on the right foot. It’s nice and long, and ends with several seconds of lingering feedback, as do most of these songs. It seems to just keep going, and that’s fine. “White Line” is another resurrected nugget from the ‘70s, and “F*!#in’ Up” isn’t as funny after the first few listens. “Over And Over” is very long but not dull, but it’s still hard to tell “Love To Burn” and “Love And Only Love” apart until the choruses kick in. “Farmer John” is a stupid old garage band song, perfect for these guys. They sure have a lot of fun playing it. “Days That Used To Be” takes most of its melody from “My Back Pages”, but that’s okay since both songs cover similar ground. “Mansion On The Hill” was the first single, Lord knows why, except that it’s pretty short and uses the word “psychedelic”. “Mother Earth” ends the ride with a twist—a live vocal and distorto guitar performance with overdubbed backing vocals.
Ragged Glory isn’t as forgettable as much of his ‘80s material, but it just doesn’t have enough variety, especially coming so soon after the potpourri on Freedom. (A complaint: Neil made a big deal at the time about “Don’t Spook The Horse”, which was left off the album for use as a B-side. First of all, it could have fit on the album with room to spare, and second of all, it wasn’t worth the effort. But it does include this priceless bit of advice: “If you wanna pet that old hound dog, make sure he ain’t rolled in shit.”)

Weld documented the subsequent Smell The Horse tour, and fills the same kind of purpose as Live Rust. Most of the songs are on that album or Ragged Glory, and the performances are all pretty straightforward, with some exceptions. “Blowin’ In The Wind” is played in a similar style to “Mother Earth”, after some Gulf War sound effects. “Welfare Mothers” features some silly give-and-take twixt Neil and Billy Talbot at the drawn-out end. We don’t need another “Tonight’s The Night”, though “Roll Another Number” is a different way to end these feedback-soaked, wartime proceedings. This collection has a really great version of “F*!#in’ Up” too. (Originally included only in the deluxe version of the set, Arc is a 35-minute sound sculpture, within which one can discern the endings of some familiar tunes from the tour. There is a small following on the Internet that has an annual Arc-fest devoted to playing the disc communally, which, given Neil’s fanatic fan base, isn’t surprising.)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Ragged Glory (1990)—3
Neil Young & Crazy Horse Weld (1991)—3

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