Monday, June 1, 2009

Neil Young 29: Broken Arrow

Neil had become a pretty busy guy of late. First, there was Dead Man, a Jim Jarmusch film no one liked. Neil’s extemporaneous score has its moments, just improvised guitar under some dialogue. But it was just a blip on the radar that didn’t distract us from the real issue soon at hand.
Right on schedule, a year since his last album, came Broken Arrow. Why he called it that is a mystery; there are lots of authentic Native American pictures all over the packaging and underneath the impossible-to-read lyrics, none of which seem to reference the Buffalo Springfield song of the same name. Many of the songs are on the long side, with a really murky Crazy Horse sound. The result is hypnotic.
“Big Time” is supposedly about David Briggs, his longtime producer who died shortly before the album was recorded. “I’m still living the dream we had” indeed, with another nice long outro. “Loose Change” gets its groove going straight on, with harmonica and a good singalong melody. Then he hits one chord and the band holds it for seven minutes (we counted) while he solos slowly over it. (Zappa made a killing doing just that.) “Slip Away” is said to reference Courtney Love again, but it’s still one of the best here. Like most of the rest of the album, the vocals are mixed right at band level for an almost ghostly feel. It’s great stuff, and that’s half the album already.
“Changing Highways” has a nice chunky Rawhide feel, and the riff/solo in place of the chorus is a perfect touch; apparently it’s been kicking around since the Zuma era. “Scattered (Let’s Think About Livin’)” is of a piece with the first half of the album in its spaciness. It reminds one of Tom Joad’s speech at the end of The Grapes Of Wrath, only Neil’s going to be in the music like a comet in the sky, and he hears someone’s name wherever he goes. “This Town” is a short idea with another chunky rhythm and a guitar line that’s half “Blue Moon” and half Roxy Music’s “Over You”. “Music Arcade” is impossibly quiet and acoustic, sung almost like it’s the middle of the night and he doesn’t want to wake anyone. It ends beautifully and simply. (He’d explore this style for his next album.) Then it’s back to the bar in Santa Cruz where he and the Horse played warm-up shows. “Baby What You Want Me To Do” is a faithful reading of the Jimmy Reed classic, recorded and mixed at bootleg level with lots of crowd ambience.
This was three loud, sloppy albums in a row, and all good. For all the complaining he’d done about Crazy Horse over the years, when given the right tunes—the sound and content of which can best be described as fuzzy and murky—he has the most fun stomping away with them. Broken Arrow didn’t get raves upon release, but it’s still a good one for an evening with the windows open.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Broken Arrow (1996)—4

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