There are phases to being a Neil Young fan. There are the giant songs you first hear. Helpless, Ohio, Old Man or Heart of Gold. These you could have heard of classic rock radio anytime during the last 40 years. That might draw you into CSNY or Harvest or After the Gold Rush beautiful folksy music that sounds as great today as it did when it sold millions of copies. That might lead you to the rest of the 70’s where he is trying to find meaning through his music, trying to account for a world filled with addiction, Vietnam, lost friends, and what fame at a certain level really is. These records are beautiful and an artistic peak, but also bleak and permeated with sadness. This brings you to the 1980’s where he experiments with different sounds and ideas. A mishmash of many things come to the forefront. Again he is a man attempting to find meaning in a world gone mad. Watch the movie he wrote, directed and starred in 1982 ‘Human Highway’ if you want to see a man trying to figure things out in real time. That brings me to his newly released live record from 1990 Way Down In The Rust Bucket recorded before the Ragged Glory tour as a warm up in Santa Clara. The record itself is a loose meandering affair consisting of songs mainly from the same time period. It isn’t what you would call a tight performance, but it sounds great in the disjointed way that only Crazy Horse can. In 1990 Neil Young and Crazy Horse had something that was often missing in the past. Joy. The performance isn’t confrontational or elegy. It is joyous. Sure there are songs of a darker tone like Cortez the Killer, but the man and the band sound like they have come out of the dark. I suppose that is why it is my favorite Neil Young period. I am grateful to have this live recording from it.
The record Separation Sunday by The Hold Steady is a record about being a not quite middle class young man somewhere in the American Midwest. As a kid you probably went to Catholic school (maybe to about 6th grade), but your parents couldn’t afford one of the good high schools so you went to public school. You smoked your first cigarette in 7th grade and had your first drink soon after. You parents noticed, but they were working doubles so they ignored it. You were not bad at school, but you didn’t pay attention as well as you should have and were more interested in reading On the Road or skipping school to go to the Ramones show. Sometimes on Saturday night you went to church like you told your parents, but sometimes you sat on the bench outside and smoked cigarettes and read Spin magazine. When you shop lifted or sold weed you felt slightly bad about it. As you got older your friends started to diverge, but when things went sideways they really went sideways. You made friends who always had some idea that was suspect (you went along with it anyway) and you loved girls that loved maybe a little too frequently (weird loves better than no love as they say). You got some habits that were easy to start, but hard to quit. Despite that Jesus was something to you still and you felt low sometimes about the way life going. Things have their own trajectory though and they have to play themselves out. They work out or they don’t. It’s all in the dice throw. Then you come up for air and you see what the world looks like. Separation Sunday are the songs of that trajectory.
Bars of Gold record Shelters is a straight up rock record. There is no cleverness attempted and no frills. It is definitely a record that is in the tradition of Detroit rock legends the MC5 and the Stooges. I like to listen to it when I move because the record itself never stops moving. I find it even encourages dancing while walking down the street. Luckily I trained in Russia at the Bolshoi in the 90’s so it looks really good when I get down on the sidewalk. I don’t know too much about the band aside from some articles online. The drummer and lead singer were in a band called Bear vs. Shark and the other members were in an instrumental rock band called Wildcatting and they united to create this band 10 years ago. Apparently in 2018 before making this record they thought they might drop one of their three guitarist, but instead decided it would better to add a fourth guitar instead. That direction is represented in the record. They are all in with a big sound and big songs. Honestly it is record you probably know if you like immediately from the first song. Shelters might not be the best record for sheltering in place though. Maybe take a run or walk if you listen to it. Maybe even dance a bit while doing either.