Friday, July 15, 2022

Neil Young 64: Toast

Remarkably, or maybe not, the first two “unreleased” albums Neil Young issued as part of his Archives’ Special Release Series have a similar history. Like Homegrown, Toast was started, abandoned, and then superseded by another album that didn’t directly relate to issues in his personal life. We may never know the full details of the “rough patch” that found Neil living in San Francisco while his wife and kids were back at the ranch, but apparently that experience colored the lyrics and his overall mood. At any rate, he began again with Booker T and the MG’s a few months later, and those sessions resulting in Are You Passionate? the following year.
Crazy Horse is definitely a different band than the MG’s in more ways than one, so one would think Toast (named after the studio where it was recorded) would have a more, shall we say, primitive sound. However, the earlier takes of the songs that made it to Passionate show that their soul-influenced arrangements were well in place before Booker T et al got hold of them. If anything, those tunes recall the Bluenotes, which also started as a Crazy Horse project before Neil replaced the rhythm section.
“Quit” lacks its subtitle, as well as Booker T’s organ, but it’s basically identical to the later take, right down to the female vocals. Knowing what we know now, it’s eerie to hear Pegi singing on it, but it stands out better here, without the sameness of the tracks on Passionate surrounding it. In contrast, “Standing In The Light Of Love” is total grunge, from the pounding riff to Neil’s strangled vocals, and much more what we expect from the Horse. It’s also one of those tracks that, amazingly, had stayed buried all this time, even after being revived in 2014. That said, “Goin’ Home” is still the best song of the batch, though this mix fades the song during the final solo, rather than coming to an abrupt halt, which we always liked. “Timberline” is another one of those legendary lost songs from the era, but this ragged take shows its shortcomings. The sloppiness doesn’t really match the desperation in the narrative about an unemployed logger, which needs more development. (We say this while being quite aware that it’s precisely the kind of track that people love from the Horse.)
A distinct improvement is “Gateway Of Love”, which was teased on the back cover of Passionate and played live with the Horse throughout that summer. It’s the only track we hear that has the “Latin influence” Poncho Sampedro mentioned in interviews about the shelved album; most of that is in the drums, while the bass could go either way. “How Ya Doin’?” is an odd title for what became “Mr. Disappointment”, since that question only surfaced in the later recording. This earlier version is sung in Neil’s natural voice, rather than the low rasp he adopted for the album. “Boom Boom Boom” is the same song as “She’s A Healer”, except that it’s longer and taken just a tad slower. Once again the eventual title features prominently in the lyrics, while the initial title does not. At thirteen minutes it does drag, but the jazzy bridge stands out more, and Tom Bray adds a trumpet, just as he would on the later album. Neil overdubbed a few stabs at a piano, and somebody’s playing the vibes and tapping bongos.
Toast is still unfinished as an album, and likely wouldn’t have wowed us had it come out instead back then. The disparate styles don’t cohere very well, but at least there are more dynamics, so it’s superior to Passionate, and will likely get more spins round our way. Moreover, his voice isn’t as strained here. It’s not as revelatory as Homegrown, and it hasn’t had as many decades of speculation to live up to, but once again we want to hear everything else he’s been sitting on.

Neil Young With Crazy Horse Toast (2022)—3

4 comments:

  1. This is a great review, and it also answers a few questions I had at the time we were recording Toast in San Francisco. Lester Bangs, you know what you're talking about! All the best & be well.

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  2. Thanks Wardo! So, Neil Young review #64??! Quite a run of reviews. Onto the next 64 reviews.
    Linked @ http://neilyoungnews.thrasherswheat.org/2022/07/review-neil-young-64-toast-everybodys.html

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    Replies
    1. He keeps putting them out, we'll keep reviewing them. Thanks thrasher for all you do!

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