Friday, September 15, 2017

Neil Young 53: Hitchhiker

Waiting for Neil to reveal his Archives to the extent long promised is an exhausting task for any fan, particularly those not especially wowed by his newer material. Based on direct quotes, we’d come to expect a laundry list of unreleased album projects, and while a few live albums made it to retail shelves, such titles as Homegrown, Chrome Dreams, and Toast remained locked up. And then he goes and puts out Hitchhiker, which the general public didn’t know anything about until he mentioned it in his second memoir.
The music was recorded over the course of a “stony” evening in 1976, shortly after he bailed on the Stills-Young Band tour. David Briggs rolled tape, and the session resulted in ten acoustic demos, all release-worthy. In fact, three of the recordings have been in the catalog for, well, decades; “Campaigner” came out on Decade with one less verse than the full take here, “Pocahontas” was overdubbed for Rust Never Sleeps, and “Captain Kennedy” made it out intact on Hawks & Doves. Five other songs appeared in alternate versions on later albums as well. Most people will zero in on “Powderfinger”, the oft-bootlegged acoustic version, just as mysterious as ever, but without the fire of Crazy Horse.
“Ride My Llama” comes off as fragmented, petering out before he decided how to finish it. The title track, which wouldn’t make it to an album for 34 years, comes off less a cautionary tale than an acknowledgement of the medicine he enjoyed. Another stab at “Human Highway” will fuel debate over the “definitive” version of the song, with or without CSN. “The Old Country Waltz” is played on piano, and very well too, showing off its complexities and delivered with a much more honest approach than the hokey take on American Stars ‘N Bars.
Two otherwise unreleased songs make their first appearances. “Hawaii” is a strange portrait of an archetypical Neil loner; it’s fairly complete, which only makes it more odd that he seemingly hasn’t played it since, even onstage. “Give Me Strength” is a gorgeous slice of heartbreak that he supposedly sat on because it was just too personal. This particular take has a couple of guitar mistakes and other noises, which would not have passed muster in 1976.
At a brisk 33 minutes, Hitchhiker is another tease of an ongoing project of unfathomable depth. According to the logo on the packaging, this is the fifth in a series of “special releases”, which means there are four other such albums in the pipeline that predate this little surprise. The mind reels at the possibilities; if only they were probabilities. The only constant thing about Neil is that he constantly changes his mind.

Neil Young Hitchhiker (2017)—


  1. Wardo,
    Yes, the mind reels at the possibilities!

    And you got that right about the only constant thing about Neil is constant change.

    Ride that Llama!

  2. Was keen hear this on release. Enjoyed it a lot. But to be honest after a few weeks I have to say prefer the versions that have been in my collection for years.