Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Neil Young 26: Unplugged

Having undergone a solo tour in advance of the release of Harvest Moon, Neil’s promotion of the album consisted of several stabs at televised unplugged-type concerts. The last attempt was the best, and while perhaps it wasn’t really necessary, Unplugged still gets points for variety, rarity and quality.
He begins solo, bundled in leather jacket and with shades hiding his unshaven face. “The Old Laughing Lady” is performed almost jauntily, making it more like “Sugar Mountain” than the walking nightmare of the original track. He’d been doing it that way for years, but this was the first official appearance on an album, so it was welcome. “Mr. Soul” is reassessed in a drop-D modal tuning with harmonica that transforms it into a Delta blues number. “World On A String” is an odd choice, as is the first official release of “Stringman”, done identically to the shelved 1976 recording. “Like A Hurricane” appears in its Dracula-pump organ guise before it wore out its welcome.
The band—including such luminaries from the past as Nils Lofgren, Nicolette Larson, Neil’s half-sister Astrid, and Kenny Buttrey, credited for union reasons as “Oscar Butterworth”—joins the proceedings for the Harvest Moon numbers plus some old favorites, as well as a fascinating take on “Transformer Man”. (The ever-faithful Larry Cragg came out to rhythmically push the broom for “Harvest Moon” itself.)
He’d been following his scattered muse through solo shows for years, and he found it on a good night. Strikingly crowd-pleasing and Neil-pleasing, the album also shows what the Unplugged series once strove for before it turned into a tired joke.

Neil Young Unplugged (1993)—

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