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I got lost on the human highway

Aside from Dylan, and maybe Van Morrison, I'm hard pressed to think of any artists who have released so much material over so many years, hitting so many different musical evolutionary steps, as everyone's favorite Canadian epileptic, Neil Young.

All that jumping around has certain involved its share of dropping into potholes. Just as Dylan had his Street Legal, his Under the Red Sky, Neil had a stretch of albums in the 80s that were so off that his label at the time, Geffen, sued him for turning in records that weren't Neil Youngy enough. I've always found him hit-or-miss, an artist who at his best delivers impassioned performance and bold music, at his worst delivers banal or lazy lyrics with slapdash production.

And when you buy a Neil record, it's hard to predict which one you're going to get. His recent Are You Passionate?, where he's backed up by Booker T and a couple other MGs, sounded like a great idea, but landed with a big thud. Mirror Ball, though, his effort of several years back with Pearl Jam as his backing band, was often exhilarating. And I think Ragged Glory, with Crazy Horse, is one of the great guitar records out there, with its shrill feedback and melodic power chords.

I had never heard Comes a Time, his 1978 acoustic effort, until my girlfriend put it on several months back on... I guess I could describe it as the evening before the first morning we ever woke up together.

Last week, she gave it to me as a birthday present, and, even overlooking the high sentimental significance of it for me, I've really enjoyed it. "Lotta Love," probably in the top 10 of most familiar Neil songs, sounds a bit dated, but the rest of the album has a great, loose feel, much more melodic and warmer than the similar-sounding Harvest from earlier in the decade. It's one of those albums which, even if you've never heard it before, sounds instantly familiar and comfortable the second you here the opening chords.

My favorites are "Human Highway," "Motorcycle Mama," and his lovely take on Ian and Sylvia's folk classic, "Four Strong Winds."

"Winds" is one of those songs that I never owned, but knew all the words to, thanks to it being one of the songs we always sang at the sleepaway camp where I spent four summers in my early teens, in the Trinity National Forest, halfway between Eureka and Redding in the northern part of Northern California.

I learned "Fire and Rain," there, too, and Richard and Mimi Farina's "Pack Up Your Sorrows." To this day, I think many of the tendencies I have to like folkish, acoustic music derive directly from those days spent under apple trees at the Bar 717 Ranch.

And "Four Strong Winds," even now, takes me back to days of grassy meadows, big skies, and first kisses.

posted by Anon. 3:33 PM
Shed a little light

I generally keep my day job off and out of this blog, but this is music-related so... if you happened to catch an episode of the show which employs me as a scribe last night, you then caught Aimee Mann doing a mighty fine cover of a James Taylor song, "Shed a Little Light."

I believe they'll be making this single available, though it was done especially for the show, and is not part of Aimee's just released, fresh off the presses, hot off the griddle, Lost in Space.

I don't own Lost in Space yet, but I do own her last release before that. Aimee's Bachelor No. 2 was a record embraced by seemingly everyone who had, at one point or another, majored in Comparative Literature, dated someone with cool Elvis Costello glasses, or purchased goat cheese at a whole foods market.

I liked it fine; I'd have liked it better were it not so tied to Paul Thomas Anderson and his execrable Magnolia.

Mostly, I feel with Aimee that she's an artist who does better in small amounts. Listening to Bachelor No. 2 back to back, it always felt that the songs were both thematically and musically a little redundant. Not to say that "Red Vines" and "Definitely" weren't really good, and that she doesn't know her way around a lyric. They were, and she does.

It's just that sometimes the intellectual angst and literate cynicism in every single song starts to feel relentless. Like spending too much of the day in a wet bathing suit, the songs start to chafe.

posted by Anon. 3:09 PM



Is it just me, or are you less likely to listen and enjoy an album when it's been burned for you by a friend, than when you actually have it in its "real" format -- with the album cover, the actual CD, the colors and photos and all of that? I find that I listen to mixes friends burn me quite a bit, but for some reason, don't listen a ton when they burn me copies of individual albums. Is that guilt? I dont' feel the same guilt for buying an album used, where the artist doesn't get any cashola from that, either...

I'm so tempted to finish off the Larry Kingness of this post with ellipses. But I'll refrain.

posted by Anon. 1:49 PM

As a birthday present, a great birthday present, B took me up to Ojai this weekend. I drove. This meant that when I picked her up, B had to wade through about 40 discs on the floor. "We're going for a one hour drive for a weekend trip, not a month-long caravan across the country," she said. Well, she didn't say that, but she could have, and the fact is, B being B, she probably said something much wittier, but I'm trying to get to the point here.

We ended up listening to Lucinda Williams' eponymous record (though not her debut; it was her third album), as well as Dave Alvin's first live solo record, Interstate City, on the drive up. On the drive back, we listened to Prince's the Hits, volume 1. B talked about hearing "I Just Wanted to See You So Bad" in her sister's kitchen. No, not on the stereo. Lucinda actually playing it live on an acoustic guitar.

posted by Anon. 1:46 PM

Tried listening a lot more to the new Beth Orton album, Daybreaker, but she makes it so damn hard. There is one great song -- "Concrete Sky" -- and a nice song called "God's Song" with the omnipresent Emmylou Harris on back-ups. But most of the album is a snooze, a shame from someone who on Trailer Park and Central Reservation managed to mix electronica and folk and even a Smokey Robinson cover with such aplomb. "Concerete Sky" will make it onto my Year in Review disc or two -- every year, around December, I make a disc or two of my favorites released by people that year, the guiding rules being that the songs had to be released that year and that each disc features no more than one song from any one album. But that's the only thing that'll keep this record from going off my CD shelves into the "bad CD pile" -- due to my limited space on my Hold Everything CD shelves (great shelves, by the way, in that their absence of "grooves" means that keeping things alphabetized isn't a painful chore of removing and re-inserting and also allows for two disc sets), I often go through them every few months to extract a few discs that I don't listen to anymore, to throw into my closet by the Jack Logan and Pete Droge records.

posted by Anon. 1:42 PM