Sunday, November 02, 2014

Kat's Korner: Neil Young brings the love

Kat: Maggie's surprised and seems to feel that I've settled.

Toni's more understanding but also feels I'll regret my choice.

Sumner points out that I've never been the type of woman to limit my choices.

And Dak-Ho swears that, "in a week or maybe three," I'm going to wake up and regret who I picked.

And they're certainly not alone when it comes to opinions on my new love.

And, you know what, if I'm really honest -- really, really honest, I can see that they might have a point and in some ways I might have picked my new love too quickly or too blindly.

But, damn it, I'm in love.

And I don't doubt that Neil Young's solo version of Storytone might satisfy me in many ways.

I do love acoustic music.

But there's a lot to be said for the way he intended the album.

Listening to the ten tracks with Neil backed by a band or orchestra, it's really something amazing.

The plaintive vocals achieve something beyond melancholy and approach elegiac and call to mind what music in The Church of Neil Young might sound like.

But instead of taking a moment to grasp what he's going for, it seems like reviewers are all rushing for comfort food and insisting that the true miracle of Storytone is not the songs as Neil intended them but the versions included as a bonus on the deluxe edition -- all ten songs performed solo by Neil.

I love Neil in concert.

But I don't know that, for example, "I Want To Drive My Car" could be as haunting performed by Neil and his guitar.  There's something at once stately and prairie-like in what Neil and the band project on that song, something that calls to mind Joni Mitchell's Hejira in many ways.

The explorations open tuning provides for Joni, that huge landscape, is the same mood and feel that Neil's achieving when he's working with a band and an orchestra on Storytones.

I saw Neil performing in Boston last month and know what he could -- and did -- do with some of these songs just with guitar (and harmonica).

I don't question that it was amazing.

I stood and applauded throughout the concert, feeling every performance was worthy of a standing ovation.

And when a concert album's released, I'll love it, I know.

But right now, over here on this side of the room, Neil's put together an album with a lot of care and there's a point to the arrangements and the instrumental choices -- if anyone can take a moment to pay attention.

Today I paint my masterpiece
Tonight I trace my tears
Thinking through my path to you
And how I stumbled through the years

A few years back, Barbra Streisand released an overwhelming album and preferred the trimmed down version (available in the deluxe edition) with just Barbra and a small combo led by Diana Krall.

The difference there was that Streisand's voice was overdone when paired with the orchestra.  It all ended up so precise and all so much muzac but it came to life when it was Barbra fronting a small combo.

But Neil isn't processed cheese when he's performing with an orchestra.

His voice cuts through the arrangements.

You can argue his signature vocals scale all the instrumentation or reduce all the instrumentation but they never get lost in the arrangements.

I love Harvest, for example, but I also love Trans.  And, back in 1982, when Trans came out, it seemed to me the biggest knock on the album wasn't what it sounded like but that it didn't sound like Harvest.

One of the reasons that Neil's still able to produce classics -- such as Living With War and Greendale -- is because he isn't static.  Like his fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, he's never stopped exploring, he's never said, "Okay, this sound, right here, this is what I want to do every album like from now until the end of time."

You know, the sort of crap Jackson Browne churns out.  Standing in the Breach was more bubble gum from the man who seems to think there's a world of difference between himself and Barry Manilow.

Maybe there is.

A roomful of people singing "Mandy" can have a good time.  I'm not sure the same can be said of a roomful of people singing any song Browne wrote by himself.

He put out Standing in the Breach last month.

An alleged political album.

Because political people sound like Nicholas Kristof?

Well, if my image was now one of beating Daryl Hannah and other women and if Joni Mitchell had written "Not To Blame" about me, I might want to pretend to be the bland and actually apolitical, corporatist mumblings of Nicholas Kristof too.

Kristof is a watered down version of the left, a toothless version, declawed, deballed.

And Browne's made a useless 'political' album that tries to be everything to everybody -- like Browne did at the start of his career when he was basically 'almost gay' in order to win and keep the support of David Geffen and Jann Wenner back in the day when both men were still in the closet.

Or are we really ever not going to talk about that?

When you're Jackson Browne, you don't talk or write about anything that really matters which is how you end up making music -- over and over -- that is both inoffensive and inconsequential.

There is more honesty -- and, yes, art -- in one of Neil Young's farts than in Jackson Browne's entire discography.

And I love that Neil, all these years later, is still experimenting.

And I love that he's done an actual political album.

Neil's not whining, he's raging.

And it's beautiful, it's passionate and it's alive.

You can buy the deluxe version of Storytone and just listen to Neil's solo tracks.

You'll enjoy them, I don't doubt it.

But he's trying to explore something in different shades and moods and you're really short changing yourself if you're skipping that journey to hear these songs done in the way you expect.  Tuesday, November 4th, try to make a little space for new art.