Neil Young & The International Harvesters – A Treasure – Reprise Records

by | Jul 8, 2011 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews | 0 comments

Neil Young & The International Harvesters – A Treasure – Reprise Records, 52:44 ****:

(Neil Young – guitar, vocals; Ben Keith – Slide Guitar, pedal steel; Rufus Thibodeaux – fiddle; Spooner Oldham – piano; Harkus “Pig” Robbins – piano; Tim Drummond – bass; Joe Allen – bass; Anthony Crawford –  mandolin; guitar; Karl Himmel – drums)

Self-described as consistently erratic, Neil Young is fearless in his career decisions. When the public expects a folk/pop album, he might unleash a garage project with his house band, Crazy Horse. It is impossible to predict his next move, and that has always defined his image in the industry. Recently, after forty years of estrangement, he reunited with the iconic sixties folk-rock band, Buffalo Springfield. Throughout this illustrious ascent to cult hero status (regardless of record executives or critics), Young has maintained a vital connection to country music. His early solo work has produced songs like “Harvest”, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, “Are You Ready For The Country?” and “Heart Of Gold” that highlight country narratives. In the eighties, he experimented with a variety of genres, confounding fans and those looking for the next return to After The Gold Rush melancholy or the ferocity of Cinnamon Girl.

What Young has now released is rowdy live set recorded in 1984 and 1985. Backed by some of the most prestigious country session players in the world (named The International Harvesters), A Treasure is twelve tracks of barroom audacity. Recorded at a variety of locations (Greek Theatre/Berkeley, Austin City Limits, Pier 84/New York, Minnesota State Fair), the record feels like a two-step Saturday night dance band. “Amber Jean” (one of five previously unreleased tracks) lays the ground work for the festivities. Young’s reedy voice is full of jaunty spirit. Ben Keith (who played on Patsy Cline’s 1961 hit “I Fall To Pieces”) provides a nimble solo on pedal steel.  A growling recreation of “Are You Ready For The Country?” features a colorful run by Cajun fiddler, Rufus Thibodeaux (George Jones, Lefty Frizzel, Jim Reeves). This group can play any style of music. “It Might have Been” has a breezy Nashville swing vibe. Listen to “Bound For Glory” and you could be listening to Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings. Timeless fascination with trains is evoked by the punctuated rhythm of “Southern Pacific”.

There is no pretense to the material (nearly all written by Young), just artistic inspiration.
Consisting of cuts from his varied career and the 1985 album Old Ways, the songwriting acuity is evident in the chord sequences and lyrical content. “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong” (first recorded with Buffalo Springfield) is revisited with country elegance. The unpredictable Young soars with a jagged muscular road piece, “Grey Riders” (also previously unreleased). The fiery electric guitar riffs that elevated his touring band Crazy Horse are on full display. Political satire reigns on the still topical observation of the American automobile industry, “Motor City.” At his core, Young is a rock and roll disciple. “Soul Of a Woman” lays down a fifties rockabilly blues groove that shows off the group’s influential roots.

A Treasure is another Neil Young project that defies typical music industry conventions. It captures the spirit of live country music and should appeal to a variety of audiences. Format versions of this release include standard CD, vinyl, digital download (with and without videos), and a deluxe CD/Blu-ray package (the second Blu-ray set Young has released).  [We were only furnished an advance of the single CD, so we cannot comment on the vinyl or dual disc releases…Ed.]

TrackList: Amber Jean; Are You Ready For The Country?; It Might Have Been; Bound For Glory; Let Your Fingers Do The Walking; Flying On The Ground Is Wrong; Motor City; Soul Of A Woman; Get Back To The Country; Southern Pacific; Nothing Is Perfect; Grey Riders

— Robbie Gerson

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